Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Is there anything funny about a sixteen year old girl getting pregnant? Actually, there's quite a bit in the soon-to-be-released film "Juno" (opening December 14).

It's about a smart/smart-mouthed Minnesota teen named Juno MacGuff who finds herself pregnant after her first sexual experience with a shy, nerdy classmate (Michael Cera). Her first inclination is to abort the child and she even goes to an abortion clinic for the procedure. But an encounter with a friend from school - along with the clinic's comically bizarre atmosphere - results in Juno rushing out and soonafter deciding to give her baby up for adoption. After searching for prospective parents in the local Penny Saver, Juno decides on Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) a seemingly-perfect, well-off suburban couple eager to adopt a child.

"Juno" manages to walk the fine line between edgy, witty, crass, and heartfelt. One of the film's strongest points is its three-dimensional characterizations. These aren't just stock characters but rather people with whom the audience can identify. The reaction of Juno's parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) to her pregnancy news is particularly poignant. They're shocked but supportive in a way you hope parents would be in that type of situation. Even Juno's school friend who is the lone Christian protester outside the abortion clinic could have been portrayed in the stereotypical way, as if she were someone to be looked down on and mocked. Instead, she's goofy but genuinely sincere in a way that makes a valid point and gets through to Juno.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman also make the most of their roles as a couple whose veneer of perfection shows cracks as the story progresses. The cracks, however, make them more human. Garner especially stands out as she conveys the longing of a woman unable to have biological children. Though she initially appears to be a hard-nosed June Cleaver, her character's vocation to motherhood eventually comes shining through. I'm used to seeing Garner kicking-butt-and-taking-names in "Alias" or being girly-silly in "13 Going on Thirty." But as Vanessa, she conveys a maturity and sensitivity that takes her to a new level as an actress. I'm guessing that giving birth to her own daughter gave her an enlightening perspective on this role.

Ultimately, "Juno" is carried on the more-than-capable shoulders of Ellen Page who plays the title role. She is the endearing outsider created out of the Freaks-and-Geeks mold who combines snarkiness with vulnerability and a growing maturity as she tries to find her identity in the world.

Whether or not it was writer Diablo Cody's intention, the movie contains aspects that many will consider pro-life. Yet I hesitate to see that label put on the movie because it goes beyond that. This isn't a movie that has an agenda; it simply tells an engaging story. There isn't any sermonizing about pro-life or pro-choice. The characters choices and experiences speak for themselves. "Juno" conveys the positive and challenging aspects of one teen's journey through an unplanned pregnancy - how she can't bear to dispose of the life inside her and comes to make the selfless, beautiful choice of delivering the baby because there are many loving people in this world who want it. In one sense, Juno's experience is idyllic because she has the unwavering support of family and friends to get her through. To me, that makes the film pro-life in a larger sense because, if real teens who got pregnant actually had the same kind of support, there's a greater chance they wouldn't choose abortion.

Based on those factors alone, this is a film that could be embraced by a Christian audience. However, I think that audience may take issue with some of the frank sexual dialogue among the teens. These are high schoolers who are sexually active and the film does mine some laughs out of that fact (it's PG-13 so there's no actual nudity, just talk). While there's no sermonizing about either birth control or abstinence, screenwriter Diablo Cody brings her own teenage sexual ethics to the story. Like it or not, that was the experience of her and her friends in high school. In my opinion, if parents are concerned about that part of the story, they should definitely see it with their kids, talk to them about their attitudes toward sex, and make it an occasion for teaching. But since the film's overall message is so positive, I think the film is worth seeing. Frankly, I think the film will attract a teen audience regardless of what parents say so it might be a good idea to see "Juno" anyway. It should be a charming, funny, poignant experience no matter your age.

To see the trailer, go here.

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