Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Movie Review: Juno

Okay, I finally watched Juno. With my own sixteen-year-old daughter. And I'm really glad I did. (Warning: massive spoiler alert for the rest of the review, so don't read unless you've seen it or are still debating whether you will see it. I give everything away. So stop reading NOW if you want to be surprised by the film.)

Without being overtly spiritual, Juno packs a wallop. I find myself mulling over scenes days after seeing the film on DVD, thinking over the implications of its pro-life message, Juno's search for assurances that love can truly last a lifetime, and Jason Bateman's character being "too cool" to be a parent. The movie is quirky in the best sense of the word, yet deep at the same time. It's realistic without being ugly. It's depressing and uplifting at the same time -- just like life. After giving birth, Juno cries over the baby she's given up for adoption while being held by Beek, yet she also has a peace about her that comes from doing the right thing. Jennifer Garner's character strengthens as Jason Bateman's character weakens. Allison Janney is priceless as Juno's stepmom and utters truths right and left throughout the movie. Juno's parents are wise and loving, rolling with the punches of life without recriminations; they are people to look up to.

Juno herself is a study in contradictions: she desires Beek's love yet pushes it away at the same time. She's snarky and vulnerable at the same time. She's wise in dealing with the aftermath of the stupid decision to have sex at 16. Or perhaps she's wise *after* making that stupid decision. Juno cavalierly mentions "nipping the thing in the bud" when discussing pregnancy options with Beek, but when confronted with the uncaring people at the abortion clinic and the fact that her baby has fingernails, she can't go through with it. Wisely knowing that keeping the baby wouldn't be in anyone's best interest, she finds adoptive parents through the Pennysaver before even broaching the news to her parents. And the adoptive parent she gets along with so well, the one who is "cool" in his musical tastes and appreciation of slasher movies, is the one who can't hack parenthood and leaves his wife in order to live in a downtown loft and follow his dream of being a musician. It's the adoptive parent for whom Juno doesn't feel an affinity who is equipped for parenthood, who even without a husband goes through with the adoption despite her divorce after Juno drops a hastily-scribbled note on their doorstep the day that the prospective parents break up: "Vanessa -- I'm still in if you are. Juno." In one of the final images of the film, that crumpled note, written in red crayon on the back of a yellow Jiffy-Lube receipt, is framed over the baby's crib as Vanessa cares for her longed-for child.

Juno is a life-affirming, funny, poignant, quirky film. It gets across the dangers of teen sex and the moral wrong of abortion in a singularly non-preachy way and with enough humor and wit that I think that teens watching it will take notice. The film doesn't make fun of teen pregnancy (my fear), but addresses the issue head-on, with equal doses of reality and love. Juno makes the point to Beek that he has it easy as she must walk around school with the proof of their relationship sticking out under her shirt. Juno also doesn't mince words when expressing the downside of pregnancy physically, including upchucking into her stepmom's vase by the front door. (And it only gets more graphic from there.) The film does not make pregnancy seem funny or easy or cavalier -- Juno's reactions to situations and her quick one-liners certainly lighten the mood, but the seriousness remains just under the surface, popping up more often than not. Ellen Page is sheer genius, and the script even more so. All of those award nods were well-deserved.

I liked the film far more than I thought I would. I love quirky films, and this one was about as quirky as one can get. Juno is a keeper and is well-worth your time, in my not-so-humble opinion.

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