January 2, 2008 33 Comments
Here goes — the longer review I offer of Juno, the teen pregnancy comedy that’s generating buzz.
From the way Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) looks when she’s very far along, to the plan that goes off without a serious hitch, to the quick and folksy ending — this movie is a love story with a noticeable bump. A teenaged love story.
I’ve spoiled it for you and I don’t feel sorry. With a bunch of witty one-liners and the infusion of those fuzzies you encounter while growing up and falling in love, Juno actually makes teen pregnancy no big deal. At all.
There are many elements I could discuss about this movie, but I don’t want to write forever. So I’ll touch on a few things.
The story of Juno’s mother kinda raises your eyebrows. From what I remember she divorced Juno’s father and married someone else, moved far away and is raising the kids in her new marriage, and sends Juno cactuses on her birthday. (I told you it tries too hard with the dysfunction. Let’s not even get into the part where she calls the Women Now hotline with her hamburger phone. I mean, I actually have a hamburger phone so it was nice to see the wonderful phone get a shout-out — but STILL! Really?)
People of color emerged in the storyline during critical stages of the pregnancy or the relationship. The abortion clinic near where Juno lived? Picketed by a lone Asian girl (who didn’t speak English very well). The “ultrasound technician?” Woman of color. The first real glimpse we get that Juno’s boyfriend’s hearing about it from his friends at school? Young man of color. Nurse tending to the babies after they’re born? Woman of color. Each said something directly relating to the pregnancy or birth.
The worst instance is when Juno’s stepmother (a nail technician that owns her own shop) takes the ultrasound technician to task for commenting that she doesn’t think Juno would make a good parent. It was such a ridiculous attempt to pull rank. Also, I guess it was important for this film to destroy all elements of realism about Juno’s pregnancy as possible. The stepmother’s defense was supposed to be a “whoa, lady’s got ‘tude” moment. But it felt…well…intrusive. And most likely, it was on purpose. White middle class America can do anything it wants, bitch! And that ended that little derail. Or did it? Suspensalicious!
Did people criticize Juno for having sex without protection? Ehhh…yeahhh…. There’s a scene devoted to that. Perhaps the best thing that came out of this movie is Juno (with help from her best friend Leah) did make her choices herself about what to do with her baby. People raised their eyebrows at some of her decisions, but no one browbeat her with demands about what to do with her child. I suppose in an ideal world, that would be how teen pregnancies move along. But our world isn’t ideal, and even though it’s supposed to be a dark comedy of sorts I sat there kinda disappointed. You need absence of light for darkness. There was an abundance of light.
There were all sorts of dysfunctional snippets placed throughout the plot to give a realistic spin. I guess that’s the purpose of dysfunction nowadays. Cheerleader best friend’s abnormal crush on a teacher: 10 dysfunction points! Juno’s boyfriend’s sole addiction being orange Tic Tacs: 12 dysfunction credits! Juno not gaining any weight anywhere except her very very large midsection? 45 dysfunction credits for the trophy!
Seriously. She waddled a bit, yes. She got the elastic waistband added to her normal jeans. But did her clothing significantly change? No! Apparently she always had enough room for a baby in everything she wore before! Happy day!
And she went to high school throughout all of this. She got weird looks at the most. She was the kid who got pregnant in school. No big deal, right? Pfft!
Single motherhood got a bit of a promotion, but with some classist elements and serious entitlement problems.
Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) is a professional woman, very rich, very put-together, wants to adopt a child with her husband — and Juno finds out about Vanessa and her husband in the Penny Saver newspaper. And there’s this air that a baby will perfectly cap off this nearly-perfect family setting. Until…the MARITAL PROBLEMS START! *thunder, lightning, shattering of worlds* Adoption’s treatment — as evidenced in this scene — is a woman can’t simply walk into motherhood and expect the baby to take to her. She has to earn that motherhood. Is this a veiled commentary on women who cannot have children?
The exchange of the baby from family to family is almost ridiculously sterile. One side wants to dump off the baby, the other side wants the baby at all costs, and…there’s no conflict! The legal process goes off with a whimper.
And the picture of pregnancy…you’re left to infer which stages she’s reaching. Brief showing of Juno vomiting. Strangely bulbous abdominal area. Ultrasound. Then…DELIVERY! You only get a vague sense that she’s having hormone changes as the plot advances and she freaks out on people. And you only sense the hormone changes through the way she freaks out. She doesn’t have all the quick comebacks and witty laid-back dialogue that emerges when she’s assured things are under control. She shows some vulnerability. She eats a lot; yes. Maybe this is a commentary that when a person is pregnant in a media representation, you expect to see more of the physical dramatics emphasized to the nth degree. I also found it odd she had no prenatal care…especially with the adoption scheme that they set up.
The father has virtually no involvement. He knows she’s pregnant but he’s not quick with the fatherhood urge. Juno is not quite sure if she wants to be a mother. But she knows she loves Bleeker, the baby’s father. And Bleeker — for all his non-involvement, his all-too-comical dorky flat pan moments, and his strangely overbearing mother who doesn’t get wind of the fact her son knocked up his best female friend that she can’t stand — Bleeker loves her too. And everyone — including the film cast and crew — wants them to be an average happy teenaged couple in idealized love with no idea how this real love thing works. The plot’s strange twists and turns keep them both ingenuously dedicated to each other. Except…when Juno’s pregnant. Yeah.
To be blunt, this movie’s plot went to great lengths to normalize whiteness and white middle-class family culture as much as possible. It’s not perfect, no — just a little dysfunctional. Classy with the crassness. Everyone makes an effort to keep unpleasantries hushed up. Young love gets a sexy component, and a consequence that’s remedied. Life returns to its idyllic procession. I say that it went through great lengths to normalize because it took something like teen pregnancy, couples adopting from the womb, young parenting, family and social acceptance — Very Big Deals — and kinda canned them all into a convenient, easy-to-digest package. The normal standard is keeping white middle class America’s faith in finding easy solutions for Very Big Deals intact. This movie kinda clinches that.
So if I had to give it a rating, I’d say it was meh. The comedy in the movie was pretty great at points. There were some eye-popping moments. But…it tried too hard to keep things average and accomplished it. And I think that was the main problem I found with it.