Thursday, January 3, 2008

"Juno" another movie with a pro-life theme?

“Juno” the film which has wowed the critics and is at number five in the nation (despite only being shown in a quarter the number of the top four’s screens) joins “Bella”, “Waitress”, and even the raunchy “Knocked Up”, as part of a refreshing new genre of ‘she’s going to have the baby anyway’ films, reminiscent of the baby comedies of the nineties (without the talking babies). A slice of life, Juno provides an unvarnished, yet forgiving look at the failures and triumphs of ordinary people thrust into a crisis pregnancy.

Juno, the film’s hip, wise-cracking namesake, masterfully played by Ellen Page, struts her way across town as the credits roll, to take her third pregnancy test of the day. The toe-curling awkwardness of the ‘love scene’ which proceeded this moment is shown without romance, making the audience cringe at the utter recklessness of the teens. The pathetic irony of the sixteen year old’s predicament is heightened by the store clerks comment, “That’s a doodle that can’t be undone” and the non-reaction of Juno’s best friend, Leah the cheerleader, who can’t seem to get her mind around the situation. Juno seems headed for heartbreak, as she mechanically attempts to deal with her pregnancy by calling the local abortion clinic, as her friends have done. Her boyfriend Bleeker (Michael Cera) though sensitive, avoids involvement with the “whatever you want to do is fine with me” line, despite Juno’s dramatic efforts to tell him that their fling has had lasting consequences. He is able to continue his typical high school life, running with the track team and even lining up a prom date in view of Juno’s unsuitability. This harsh realism stands in stark contrast with the classic teen love scene with soft lighting, spinning cameras, and music. This is the hard reality which sexually active teens experience, and “Juno” takes it head-on, with a surprising sense of humor which makes you admire the little sparkplug Juno who won’t be undone by her one immature act.

Before her ex-military dad (JK Simmons) and distant step mom Bren (Allison Janney) are apprised of her crisis, Juno finds herself approaching alone the retro “Women Now” abortion clinic, where she encounters a timid teenager chanting, “Babies want to be borned”. The two girls, who are classmates, recognize each other and a start to chat about school, however, as Juno continues on to the entrance of the clinic, the girl suddenly remembers why she is there, and frantically reminds her, “Your baby has a heartbeat and fingernails now.” Somehow, the fact that her unborn child has fingernails nearly stops Juno in her tracks. She warily enters the clinic, and her reluctance is increased by the nonchalant attitude of the receptionist who demands all her “hairy details” on a form, and the anxiety of the other women in the dismal waiting room which “smells like a dentist’s office”. Juno flees the scene, to the delight of the protester, as her odyssey begins.

Juno scans the Pennysaver for adoptive couples. She wants a couple who are cool, with her taste in punk music, and horror flicks, and, finding an attractive couple she makes an appointment with them to discuss adoption. Armed with this plan, she breaks the news to Bren, her stepmother, and Dad, who offers to accompany her to her first meeting with Mark(Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring.(Jennifer Garner) in their McMansion in the wealthy side of town. Vanessa is ecstatic at the prospect of becoming a mother, a role, she assures Juno, she was born for. Her husband, Mark is less than enthusiastic, trying to appear fatherly to appease his wife. It shows that things in the yuppie palace may not be as ideal as they look.

Little of what follows goes according to Juno’s hastily made plans, but she manages to endure a growing belly, the mockery of her peers, and Bleeker’s lack of involvement with admirable spunk. Ellen Page is outstanding in this demanding role, never dipping into melodrama or cynicism, always believable as a teen whose self-possession in a crisis makes her the more mature character of the drama. Bren, who plays a loving but firm stepmother, holds Juno’s hand throughout the pregnancy and even her macho dad (Rowling) shows masculine tenderness towards his daughter as he accompanies her to the hospital. It’s always an inspiration when inadequate parents suddenly find their role in a crisis, and Diablo Cody, the screenwriter, gives them their due. She deserves praise for a witty screenplay with insightful characters, which rise above stereotypes about teenage mothers.
“Juno” resembles “Napoleon Dynamite” in its’ irritating banality, and its coffee-shop singer soundtrack composed by Mateo Messina and sung by Kimya Dawson (though it occasionally hits a poignant note). Director Jason Reitman focuses on the tacky, cluttered working class world of the teen parents Juno and Bleeker, contrasted to the plush serenity of the adoptive couple’s world.

“Juno” would be an interesting film for high school health classes, as it shows without apology, the process of modern adoption. Crude, sometimes profane language, partial nudity and adult themes, I recommend this film for older teens, as Juno’s taste in horror films as well as an inappropriate, partially nude, sexual act may be too much reality for innocent younger teens (you have the option of arriving during the credits and missing most of this scene).
“Juno” would be perfect discussion catalyst for parent-teen night out, or a crisis pregnancy center.
Cross posted at Catholic Exchange.

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