Juno is what most teen movies are not: non-commercial, with an agenda between its screenplay pages. This isn’t a film promoting a soundtrack and because it’s a low budget movie, it can take risks without worrying about its bottom-line and risk it does, much like 2003’s Thirteen. The story of Juno revolves around teen pregnancy but its more about the girl who gets pregnant, her quirky personality and what she decides to do about her bun in the oven.
Juno is set in a high school where a girl, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) likes a boy; Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), whom she thinks is “boss” and decides to have sex with him. The result of that sexual encounter is Juno’s pregnancy. As a film, Juno has some of the freshest, quirkiest and unique dialogue I’ve heard in a teen drama / comedy since 1995’s Clueless (though Clueless seemed to create new slang: as if, coastal, et cetera), far funnier than the prose found in Superbad. Many of the phrases, slang and references in Juno I’ve heard before but it’s mixed together, packed and packaged in a way that makes you take notice, smile on a regular basis and sometimes laugh.
The pregnancy, its effect on Juno, her relationship with her would-be boyfriend, parents, her school, are all handled with a surreal lightness not very well rooted in reality. Juno’s character is well established early in the film so you see why she is able to deal with the tough situation she finds herself in with the bravado and in the manner that she does. In effect, the film’s main fault turns into its greatest strength. It’s refreshing to see a movie about teens that does not have to do with cars, bikes, dancing or fights while simultaneously marketing a soundtrack and other affiliated products. None of the films I just alluded to deal with any real issues facing contemporary teenagers; not like Juno. How the issue is handled in the film is a topic of debate but at least the issue is brought up and is sparking new discussion. With Jamie-Lynn Spears now pregnant at sixteen (an ordinary occurrence in the 1300 to late 1700s), a more prevalent and open forum on the subject might have created a different outcome for her and many other sexually active teens.
The supporting cast in Juno is very effective, including Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), the would-be adoptive parents of Juno’s unborn child. Juno’s father, Mac MacGuff (J.K. Simmons), and Juno’s step-mother, Brenda MacGuff (Allison Janney), are also very good in this film and serve as a stable and knowledgeable element in Juno’s life. These characters are for all intents and purposes the realistic elements in Juno. If it were not for these characters and a handful of dramatic moments, Juno might be seen only as a comedy like Knocked Up instead of a drama with comedic elements.
The range of emotions Juno goes through throughout the course of the film speaks very highly of Ellen Page as an actress. Jennifer Garner and the way her character is acted is also a welcome surprise. Vanessa is basically the opposite of Juno’s character: Vanessa wants a child, Juno does not. Vanessa is ready for a child in her life, Juno is not. Vanessa is fully capable of supporting the new born; Juno is still a child herself, has not even graduated high school yet and is unemployed. Vanessa is willing to re-arrange her life to welcome the new born into her home, Juno is willing to give her child away to ensure it has a good home and everything else it could possibly need in the future.
Because of the quick decisions Vanessa and Juno make, Vanessa’s husband finds himself at a crossroads in his life as well, just in a different form. Mark’s crossroad involves his life of “contributing” with Vanessa, the death of his ambitions and being thrust head first into fatherhood. The careful viewer soon realizes that in Juno, not one but three people are at an important crossroads in their lives: a pregnant teen and the two adoptive parents of her unborn child.
For all intents and purposes, Juno is a funny entertainment movie that involves teenagers, teen romance and teen pregnancy. The way this film handles the latter issue is sure to spark controversy but at least Juno does not take the road well traveled, is original and is well written.