'Juno' offers authentic teen portrait

Teenagers go to movies often and enthusiastically and Hollywood has romanced this demographic for years. But for all of the films produced for and about adolescents, few seem authentic or have the ring of truth. The characters and stories seem created by screenwriters who have long forgotten what it means to be young, or are convinced that youthful audiences don't want to hear dialogue or see portrayals which mirror their world as it is. Far too many teen flicks are viewed through a mean-spirited or sex obsessed prism ("Mean Girls," "American Pie," "Heathers").

There are two truths about adolescents which are relevant here. Being young is universal and so the similarities, from one generation to the next, are always accessible: the rites of passage, the tumultuous physical changes, the intensity of emotions, the search for an identity which is less and less connected to childhood. It is a completely unique period, unlike anything experienced before or after. In so many ways adolescence is unforgettable, lived intensely, etched in memory, and ever-seductive.

There is also a patina to adolescence which is of the moment. No one is ever as hip as teenagers. They are on the cutting edge of all that is pop culture, trendy and now, and totally unique having their own style far removed from those who have come before. In dress, language, music, interests, attitudes, they sculpt their own images (X, Y, Z), and woe betide anyone who lamely tries to mimic them. They are the only ones who can breathe the pure, exhilarating oxygen of youth. For some, leaving this period of grace and turmoil is all but impossible and so adolescence is stretched into later years and only grudgingly relinquished.

What makes "Juno" so compelling as a film is not only the exceptional casting &

Ellen Page is remarkable as Juno, as are her parents, portrayed by J.K. Simmon and Allison Janey &

but the dialogue is extraordinarily snappy as if Diablo Cody, the screenwriter, had submerged herself in the teen culture and got it just right. That may not be the case, but this film is wrapped in a nifty verisimilitude that is comedic and serious and even sad.

Juno is a precocious, 16-year-old innocent who is also a solid hyper-literate rocker girl whose vulnerabilities are well disguised. But isn't that the modus operandi of many adolescents, wrapped tightly in insouciance, prepared to fight to the end to protect their hidden lives and thoughts and impulses &

not necessarily from one another but from anyone not of their world (like parents).

For Juno, her well constructed life is jarred when, after a curious evening of sexual experimentation with geeky classmate Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), she becomes pregnant. Juno later insists to Bleeker that the reason they had sex was because the "Blair Witch Project" wasn't on television, so, like what else was there to do?

Thus begins what will be for her a search for an outcome that she can live with. What she does and how she handles this life changing choice moves the film in a direction that tests not only Juno but all who care about her. Leah, her best friend, brightly suggests that she check the Pennysaver weekly and see if she can't find a young couple, "desperately seeking spawn."

"Juno" is a life-affirming film that will make you laugh, will touch your heart, is reminiscent of last year's "Little Miss Sunshine" (small, indie sleeper), and offers a window into the layered, often remote and inaccessible world of the young. Of course, the minute the last frame was shot, the high speed youth culture morphed into something else. Nevertheless, "Juno" seems wonderfully fresh and original.

'The Water Horse'

"The Water Horse" is a sweet movie. Think of it as boy meets, at first, a wee Loch Ness Monster. One day Angus McMorrow (Alex Etel) is wandering the shore of the Loch and comes across what looks to be a barancle-encrusted egg. Curious, he takes it home and opens it. Inside is a small creature, a cross between a seal and a very small colt. It's love at first sight. Angus bonds with the little critter and sets about keeping his discovery from his Scottish family. His only problem is that the small animal, which he names Crusoe, is growing at a fairly good clip, causing Angus all kinds of problems.

The film is set during WWII, and as it turns out a Scottish regiment has bivouacked in their front yard and home. Suddenly Crusoe is in ever increasing danger of not only outgrowing the family bathtub but the bathroom itself and of being discovered. There's also a soldier's bulldog named Churchill who is in the hunt and determined to sink his small teeth in Crusoe's backside.

Know that the last act of the "The Water Horse" is intense and may be more than some children can handle. Crusoe, of course, is in harm's way as is Angus. The CGI is seamless and the scenes where Crusoe is free to swim across the Loch and then return to Angus are wonderful. A nice afternoon film with the kids; they won't be disappointed. Tangentially, if you haven't sat down with your kids and watched "The Black Stallion" on DVD, it's a treat. Same theme. Boy meets horse, boy falls in love with horse, and so on. Superb film.

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