Directed by Jason Reitman. US. 2007.
Juno McGuff is the name of our heroine, a 16 year old portrayed by Ellen Page who gets pregnant after a bored evening with Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) and while wanting to ‘procure a hasty abortion’ eventually decides to do the selfless act of having the baby and give her up for adoption to a yuppie couple.
The film has an odd opening that you forget about at the end and only on reflection do you realise how different a film it might have been. A folky soundtrack, still acting standing like a photograph, a nauseating voiceover that is thankfully relinquished once Juno takes her third pregnancy test in convenience store manned by Rainn Wilson (of the ‘The Office: An American Workplace’).
The film deals with situations alternatively to normal American comedies; this is apparent in the scene when Juno has to tell her dad, Mac (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother, Bren (Alison Janney) that she is pregnant. Mac’s reaction to the news of the father is one of bewilderment rather than than anger - ‘Paulie Bleeker? I didn’t know he had it in him.’ After Juno goes upstairs with her friend it takes an about turn, normal films would follow the title character here the screenwriter Diablo Cody stays with the parents whose dialogue creates more laughs:
Mac: ‘Did you see that coming?’
Bren: ‘Yeah...but I was hoping she was expelled. Or into hard drugs.’
In most American teenage comedies, the parents are sometimes single, cut off from youth society and unaware of what is going on around them. Here though, thanks to the character actors portraying them, these parents are supportive, loving and in tune.
In a pennysaver under ‘Desperately Seeking Spawn’ she finds a picture of Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), on sight alone she picks them as the lucky couple. Vanessa is a woman who cannot have a baby and Mark is the composer still stuck in a man-boy age of clinging to his adolescent dream of being a rock star, a dream that leaves Vanessa cold and Mark giddy. Juno keeps them up to date with sonograms and updates; she spends time at the Loring house (maybe a bit too much) and a connection is made between herself and Mark by way of punk music and horror films. Every teen movie needs a jerk its just that you usually think it would be a teenager.
As the film develops and moves along (like Juno) the characters themselves grow and find what it is they are meant to do; Juno who herself is giving life knows she is given life by the presence of Paulie her love. The film is about love and what it gives you; the people who are happy are still together, Vanessa and Mark have questions to answer, Mac and Bren (together 10 years) are happy, and as Juno says to Paulie - ‘Everytime I see you the baby kicks really hard. I think because I am in love with you’.
The script is witty and
endemic of the pop cultural, 24 hour television and changing trends - hamburger
phones, etch-a-sketch, McMansions, Thundercats, Sonic Youth are all mentioned
in passing or replace an actual emotion/object in place of a cultural reference.
Characters talk as they should and do in everyday life. Again at the start,
we are swarmed over by teenagers all taking the same and you think it is
going to be too much. That is why the parents and adults are much needed
to be a little taken aback by the language these teenagers speak and be
a little bit more earthly in tone.
Jason Reitman states that he did not have to do much to Cody’s screenplay which you can tell as some of the scenes are overwritten, some go on too long (the fight between Juno-Paulie by the lockers) but thanks to Reitman’s confidence in his second feature (his debut was the impressive ‘Thank You For Smoking’) he inserts things that I do not think a writer would have thought of. As Juno-Paulie, ‘can we make out now’ by the running track people start watching and Reitman inserts a shot of a character mentioned to earlier in the film, the audience get the joke and I think Reitman should get some credit for being brave to do something different instead of the usual wave of applause and aerial shot. And instead of normal cultural programming and filmmaking where no shot last longer than a second thanks to music videos, this allows shots to take their time with people coming in when necessary, nothing seems rushed unlike the pregnancy.
The film is entertaining and it also has a forgive me for saying ‘A Wizard of Oz’ narrative sub-plot structure and significance on the film. Juno is on a personal voyage of discovery where something unusual occurs to her: she meets people on the way - Chen the exchange student if only she had a brain; Vanessa if only she had the courage to do what Juno is doing and Mark if only he had a heart because he is empty otherwise. Paulie is the Wizard (‘You are the coolest I’ve ever met, and you don’t even have to try, you know...’ ‘I try really hard, actually.’), as he grants her everything she wants for the moment. After the pregnancy is complete, Vanessa has her child, Bren has her dogs and the young couple are together and happy. Companionship and togetherness leads to love and happiness. The characters may be 16 but they already know what needs to be done.
But ‘Juno’ is different . There are probably five better films that are different and more appealing to voters, but these films can probably not mix humour-drama, teens-adults, light-dark all into one that can make you either laugh or cry by the end. Go see it before it goes to far along.
We learn early on in Jason Reitman’s comedy Juno that “pregnancy can lead to an infant”. This is exciting news. Of course, most teenagers already know this and use condoms but if Juno (Ellen Page), a feisty sixteen-year old, and her boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), a straight A, high-school track star, realized this, there would be no movie. In that case, we would be spared a Diablo Cody screenplay that inundates us with hipper-than-thou dialogue, overly obvious pop culture references, and cutesy one-liners like a drugstore clerk (Rainn Wilson) telling Juno that “Your eggo is preggo” and “This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet”. One or two of these one-liners are tolerable but a whole string of them leads us to question whether or not the author has a working relationship with how real people talk.
If the excessive quirkiness doesn’t overwhelm you, Juno may ultimately be redeemed by the outstanding performances of Page and Cera, excellent support from Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, and some genuine emotion and sweetness that leaves us remembering only the good things. While the film has much humanity, Mike Huckabee would have no problem with its anti-abortion subtext. After Juno and Paulie do it in a chair, abortion is considered but it is quickly dismissed as the filmmakers skew the odds against it by showing us a depressing waiting room at the abortion clinic, a disinterested receptionist who jokes about her boyfriend’s junk smelling like pie, and a lone protestor looking like a brave warrior instead of an obvious kook.
Carrying the baby to term seems like the only “wise” decision and Reitman/Cody display it as something of an inconvenience at worst and a pleasurable experience at best. There is no morning sickness or vomiting, no embarrassment at school, no pain and little trauma. Expecting the worst, Juno tells her parents (Allison Janney and JK Simmons) that she is pregnant but surprisingly dad and mom transcend the movie’s flirtation with clichés and provide a thoughtful, supportive response. Dad comments that he didn’t think Paulie Bleeker “had it in him” and mom, who works in a nail solon, thinks of the immediate – vitamins, and prenatal care.
The film works its way to a level of bourgeoning responsibility and maturity but to get there, it moves through an unlikely adoption scenario in which a willing couple. Mark and Vanessa, is found through a newspaper advertisement. The couple seems more than eager to adopt but somehow we don’t know what to make of them or where their real motivations lie. Our suspicions grow and become cringe-worthy when Mark takes a more than passing interest in Juno after they start comparing notes on rock stars and horror films. Ultimately, however, Juno overcomes our fears and our aversion to its smart-alecky cleverness and the film becomes a statement of generosity and unconditional love. Perhaps a bit too quirky for its own good, Juno is still a lovable film that works and works until it reaches our hearts.
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