Whenever someone tells me that a movie is just the best thing ever I nod and smile politely and ask what, specifically, justifies this characterization. When several someones, including a blitz advertising campaign and reviewer after reviewer tell me that a movie is the best thing ever I start to resist. I immediately begin to look for the infamous man behind the curtain, to wonder just how long it will be after I bite before I find that while the confection may have looked good in the pastry case inside it is nothing but air. It’s for this reason that I waited more than a month to see ‘Juno.’ And while this film certainly isn’t all it has been hyped to be, neither is it to be reviled with the passion some critics have devoted to said reviling.
Juno Macguff (Ellen Page) finds herself pregnant after a one-afternoon-stand with band mate/friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) a boy so geeky that when she reveals her pregnancy to her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and her step-mother Bren (Allison Janney) they both agree that they didn’t think Paulie had it in him.
Thus begins a standard teen-pregnancy movie in which the choices faced by the main character – to have the baby or not, to keep the baby or not – are standard, afterschool special fare. What makes ‘Juno’ interesting is that in spite of the precious dialogue (who in their right mind would actually utter the phrase “This is one doodle that can’t be undid, Homeskillet.” ? the answer is no one; this is a bit of dialogue so obviously crafted by someone trying to be clever it makes your teeth hurt), the purposefully retro ’70s styling (please, someone tell me that harvest gold isn’t back in fashion) and the references to ’70s punk music and splatter films that would likely be out of orbit for all but the most self-consciously hipster teenager (and doesn’t being self-conscious about your hipness sort of negate the ability to be hip?) there is actually a story here worth seeing.
It gives nothing of the plot away to say that Juno chooses to both have her baby and give it up for adoption. As Mark and Vanessa Loring, a couple Juno finds in the Pennysaver, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are saddled with possibly the most difficult task: showing character growth in the smallest breathing space. It is through her interactions with Mark and Vanessa that Juno learns that her view of the world, while not fixed, isn’t exactly accurate. People change, circumstances change, and people don’t always know how they’ll react when faced with a set of circumstances.
There is a lot to like about Juno as a character. Ellen Page manages to pull off a portrayal of the 17 year-old girl many of us wished we could be – smart, sassy, and self-aware enough to not let anyone push us around. Indeed, Juno’s remark to her father that she “doesn’t know what kind of girl I am” when he tells her he thought she was a girl who knew when to say when exposes both a wisdom and an innocence that it’s probably impossible to have coexist in a real person.
The disappointment of this film lies in the fact that it touches on several important themes, chief among them what it means to find your identity, but doesn’t explore these conflicts with any depth. Juno’s decision not to have an abortion is based on the flimsiest of reasons, but then again, her decision to have sex with Paulie was also based on the flimsiest of reasons. It is this coupling of major themes with facile resolutions that prevents ‘Juno’ from being excellent.
Given that ‘Juno’ gained popularity from a blitz of critical love and advertising, that there has been backlash against the film in the form of the aforementioned critical revilement, and that there is now backlash against the backlash (
What’s good about this film?
- Ellen Page embodying everything the self-aware, vaguely feminist teenage girl should want to be, minus the unplanned pregnancy of course.
- Jennifer Garner’s restrained but moving performance.
- And yeah, the fact that someone would not only put an entire living room set out on the lawn for the taking but also that it would be taken and used to recreate said living room on someone else’s lawn.
For fans of:
- “That ’70s show”
- ‘Thank You For Smoking’
I went to film school for this.
Note: This section contains plot spoilers. Read no further if you don’t wish to have the story revealed.
Thematically ‘Juno’ is a bit of nightmare. From a feminist perspective ‘Juno’ simply wads up 40+ years of political struggle like so much used facial tissue. Yes, ‘Juno’ takes responsibility for her behavior, and yes, control of her body is hers and hers alone – in this respect the movie is a triumph; what she wants to do about the baby is left her and at no time does an authority figure pressure her to do anything – but her decisions are made as if the rights she takes for granted were, in fact, guaranteed to her when they really are not.
Too, the pseudo sub-plot, the hinting at a sexual attraction to the husband of the couple Juno has pledged to give her baby to smacks of movie-of-the-week pandering. Obviously a “fallen girl” can’t be trusted alone with the pledged adoptive father of her child. And it’s not that Juno is the cause of this sexual attraction, her interest in Mark Loring is purely geek-to-geek, but the way it’s played she’s somehow given the blame for it, and for his ultimate decision to leave his wife.
The biggest discontinuity, though, is that ‘Juno’ is shot like a comedy – high key lighting, open spaces, heavy use of musical cues – yet its plot and themes all belong squarely in the realm of drama. None of the reactions of the characters go along with the cultural seriousness with which American’s have come to regard unplanned pregnancy.
The film itself creates a sort of cognitive dissonance in the viewer with part of you enjoying some of the clever dialogue and the matter-of-factness of the characters and part of you wondering if the entire thing isn’t just one big joke to gauge your reaction for appropriateness.