Jason Reitman says he knew he had a great film on his hands with "Juno,'' the followup to his adored feature film debut, "Thank You for Smoking'' - but that hasn't stopped him from feeling pumped about its earlier-than-planned release date.

Fox Searchlight is so delighted with the movie that it's decided to release it during the crucial month of December - on Dec. 14, to be exact, right in time to capitalize on the crush of holiday movie-goers.

"This was a film that was originally going to come out next spring, but Fox saw it, we started testing it, and the response was really strong,'' the Montreal-born Reitman says on the line from Los Angeles before heading to the Toronto International Film Festival to promote the movie.

"And because of that they decided to move it up, and that was incredibly flattering. That's the season of quality, of important films - the idea that we're coming out amongst those films is very exciting.''

Reitman was desperate to make the film as soon as he read the script by Diablo Cody, a stripper-turned-screenwriter, about a teenaged girl who gets pregnant and decides to put her baby up for adoption.

"She wrote this incredible screenplay that made unusual, brave decisions at every turn that prevented this movie from becoming a Lifetime movie,'' the 29-year-old Reitman says.

"It was very funny and ballsy and it had this unusual language and I was actually halfway through writing my own screenplay, my next movie, when I read it. I just completely fell in love with it and knew I had to make it.''

"Juno'' has a strong Canadian contingent, not surprising given its director has so many ties to Canada - his father is legendary Canadian filmmaker Ivan Reitman, his mother is a French-Canadian with deep roots in Canada, and his wife hails from Vancouver, where "Juno'' was shot last fall and winter.

The film's two leads are young Canadian actors: Ellen Page, the Nova Scotia-born actress who once appeared on the TV hit "Trailer Park Boys'' and starred in "Hard Candy,'' plays Juno MacGuff, while Michael Cera, the "Arrested Development'' alum currently burning up the box office in "Superbad,'' plays Juno's boyfriend. Cera hails from Brantford, Ont.

Cera's onetime TV dad, Jason Bateman, and tabloid darling Jennifer Garner play the couple eager to adopt the young lovers' unborn child. Rainn Wilson from "The Office'' and Alison Janney also make appearances.

"My mother's family goes back hundreds of years in Canada and my father's family were Holocaust survivors and were basically rescued by Canada, so I feel a very strong bond to the country. And my wife basically wouldn't let me be anything else but a proud Canadian,'' Reitman says.

Making the film was emotional for other reasons besides patriotic ones, he adds - Reitman had just had his first child, Josephine, when shooting started.

"There were scenes involving the birth of the baby that were really emotional and powerful for me because I had literally just had my own baby,'' he recalls, then can't help but gush about his daughter: "She's so great, she's so cool. The favourite part of my day now is going into her room first thing in the morning and watching her pull herself up in her crib and give me a big smile.''

That sweet sense of wonderment about children - both guileless babies and teenagers in trouble _ infuses "Juno,'' and Reitman says there couldn't be a better month than December to release it, given so many of the season's big films delve into much darker territory.

"It will be a nice relief because everything that's coming out then is just heartbreakingly brutal,'' Reitman says, pointing to movies like "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,'' "Into the Wild'' and "The Savages.''

"And they're all great films _ I'm not taking anything away from these movies, they're brilliant films _ but wow, it's just rough. It's bleak. And `Juno' is really very sweet, with some great performances.''

No less of an authority than Reitman's father has already weighed in to say Page and Cera are on the verge of long and successful Hollywood careers thanks in part to their work in "Juno.''

Ivan Reitman saw "Juno'' in May and predicted it would be a big critical success for his son.

"It's a fantastic film, and Ellen Page is just a spectacular young actress who I think is going to go on to a wonderful, long career, and this young kid Michael Cera _ I mean he's a great actor,'' he said in an interview last spring.

Jason Reitman echoes his father's opinions about his actors, particularly the 20-year-old Page.

"I think she'll go down as one of the best actors of her generation,'' Reitman says. "She can go from hilarious to heartbreaking in seconds flat.''

- Lee-Anne Goodman, Canadian Press