"Juno" is worth sticking with

Stick with "Juno," despite its first few minutes, and you'll be amply rewarded. When I first saw this movie, at a late-night film-festival screening at the end of a very long day, I almost called it a night in the opening scene, when teenager Juno (Ellen Page) is exchanging extremely self-conscious banter with a convenience-store clerk (Rainn Wilson) as she purchases and uses a pregnancy test. "This is one doodle that can't be undone, home skillet," he intones.

Horrors — was this yet another soulless indie movie in which all the characters are deadpan and ironic and way too clever, accompanied by the kind of songs you might hear at an open-mic coffeehouse? But director Jason Reitman made a pretty great movie last time ("Thank You for Smoking"), so I stayed in my seat. By its end, "Juno," in its guilelessly chatty way, touches the heart — and yes, I had tears in my eyes. This movie works, on its own terms.

The story gets under way shortly after that pregnancy test proves positive: Juno, who's sardonically yet sincerely in love with her puppyish classmate Bleeker (Michael Cera, adorably dorky), accepts the news. With the support of her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) — who originally comforts her with "It's probably just a food baby" — and her father (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney), she decides to have the baby and find the perfect adoptive parents. And they turn up, right there in an ad in the local Penny Saver newspaper: Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner), a scrubbed-clean couple beaming with suburban bliss — or so they seem.

"Juno" unfolds over the course of a school year (shown in the russet leaves, deep snow and delicate greens of the Midwest seasons), and during that time we come to know and love every one of the characters. Screenwriter Diablo Cody (a first-timer, and a real talent) keeps the funny lines coming, but she and Reitman subtly allow Juno and those who surround her to emerge as real, dimensional people, who just happen to speak more wittily than most of us. Simmons, in just a handful of scenes, creates one of the most moving portraits of father-daughter affection I've seen in the movies (their last scene together is the one that'll get the tears going); Janney, her take-no-prisoners brows constantly raised, makes a lovingly exasperated stepmom.

And Page, trundling through the movie in her ponytail and hoodie (she's got the delicately pretty face of a Victorian angel, made all the lovelier by the fact that no one, including her, seems to notice), perfectly embodies the movie's fearless heroine. Her Juno, named for a goddess who "was really beautiful and really mean, like Diana Ross," has a scraped-dry way of speaking and, hidden carefully, a maturity beyond her years.

She and Bleeker struggle mightily to find the right notes for their relationship, as teenage affection turns into something more complicated. (Juno tells him she loves him because he's "like, the coolest person in the world, and you don't even have to try." He, earnestly: "I try really hard, actually.") Ultimately, "Juno" emerges as a tribute to love and to families, in their many forms.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Juno," with Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby. Directed by Jason Reitman, from a screenplay by Diablo Cody. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language. Neptune, Pacific Place.