PG-13? Really? I honestly thought it was pretty R rated. I mean, the movie is aggressively talking about underage premarital sex throughout the story. It hits on some pretty dark territory. There's language all over the place. Because it is Diablo Cody, perhaps the language is not traditional cursing. But it still really has the vibe of pretty vulgar language. It isn't exactly an easy movie to get through at times. But PG-13 is PG-13. There you go.
DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman
What is Diablo Cody up to? I mean, I have the Juno IMdB page up. It's really just a click away from having answers. It just feels like so much...work. I remember when she was having her heyday. It seems like she was attached to every project because of Juno. But in 2007, I was 24. This was a very different movie for me. I was obsessed with merely the language and the aesthetics. I mean, this is a movie that still wildly entertains me. But I'm not sure if this is an aggressively pro-life movie or if I simply imbued the film with that attitude.
I always sold Juno as the most subversive pro-life movie ever made. But I probably need to play Devil's Advocate if I'm going to be at all attempting objectivity. Pro-choice doesn't mean that all unwanted pregnancies should be aborted. This is such a heavy topic to talk about, but it is at the center of the film. Juno, when she visits the pregnancy center, is there to get an abortion. Her step-mother, Bren, even asks if she wants to get an abortion. The roots of the pro-choice movement are really concretely established in the film itself. Juno and Bren don't come across as morally bankrupt in these moments. Rather, it is something that is part of the narrative that the movie pushes. I really don't get the vibe that Diablo Cody is vocally pro-life, so I have to take all of this into consideration.
But it is pretty telling that Juno's reason for leaving the pregnancy clinic before receiving an abortion because of Su-Chin's protest. It is the connection that Juno makes that the baby has fingernails that causes her to turn around and hold onto the child. While I'm not an expert at the pro-choice argument, one of the thoughts is that the mother imbues the fetus with life when she chooses. I dismiss this concept, but it is kind of marvelous that Juno, with the realization that the baby has fingernails, that she is carrying a living person inside of her. In this moment, she has this shift in philosophy and belief. This one is going to get preachy and I apologize, but that's a really big shift. Because the baby has fingernails, there's the epiphany that the baby is actually a baby and not a fetus.
But then Juno comes to a greater awareness. Not only is the fetus a baby and the baby has fingernails, but that there are people oh-so-desperate to have a child. It's great that they find the parents in the Pennysaver, but the abstract idea of infertile couples becomes real. Yeah, they are deeply broken people. Vanessa, for all of her positive parental traits, has lost sight of her marriage. Mark, the far more toxic element in the marriage, is so self-centered that he wants to seduce this high schooler because he feels like he hasn't gotten the attention that he desired. But the idea is completely sound. Vanessa, as is stressed throughout the film, would make an amazing mother. She has tried and tried and is barely holding onto hope to be a mother. Reitman and Cody build this vulnerability into her. She is a woman who keeps taking a beating in her marriage and keeps pushing on. Yeah, Mark is tired, but he's also part of the reason that she's falling apart. One of the key arguments in the pro-life movement is that there are just couple upon couple waiting to adopt a child, but the world has made it so hard to do that.
But the pro-life movement isn't exactly given a free pass with this film either. If the central conceit lies in the idea that Juno is carrying this baby for this couple that can't have their own, the way that she is treated through the course of her pregnancy is pretty damning. As much as the movie is about a twee upstart carrying a baby and speaking her own language, people treat Juno like dirt throughout the piece. The administrative assistant gives her the side eye when she's late for class. The abortion clinic receptionist has a hard time sympathizing with her. Even the ultrasound tech can't set aside her prejudices because that's what we've been taught as a culture. If a girl gets pregnant, her secret is out and she is deserving of scorn. Again, I'm pretty pro-life, but we're far from the nicest people about being open about sin. As annoying and petty as Juno is at times in the movie (it's forgivable, she's a teenager), it can't be ignored that Juno is doing something completely holy in the act of carrying this baby for this couple that can't have it.
I don't know what to think about Paulie Bleeker. Besides the fact that I can't mentally separate Michael Cera from Jason Bateman in this movie, I don't quite know the message the film is sending about Bleeker. Bleeker ends up being the perfect boyfriend. He's never really meant to be vilified by the film because Juno ends up with him in the happy ending. But Bleeker is frustrating and sympathetic simultaneously. I suppose he might be the problem with the "nice guy" character. With Juno being such an alpha character, Paulie Bleeker often comes across as a little of a wuss. He continues to lead a care free life, comparatively, with his running and his orange Tic-Tacs. But we know that he both should and shouldn't fight for investment with this child. Part of the issue with breaking Bleeker down as a character is that Juno doesn't really let us connect with him in a situation that gives him any real power. Juno recommends that Bleeker starts dating Katrina DeVoort. He states his disinterest with Katrina because he makes his intentions with Juno fairly clear. When he actually goes to Katrina, we're disappointed because he's not with Juno and because he clearly doesn't like her. But more than that, we are angry with him because he's moving on with his life and leaving Juno behind. But that's what makes the repair of that relationship all the more cathartic. He gets the right level of investment that Juno is comfortable with and is able to be vulnerable as well.
I love Juno's parents so much. Besides the fact that they are being played by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, they really balance this line between profound disappointment in their daughter's choices and sincere admiration for being to undertake this Herculean task as her age. It's so funny now that I'm an old fart that I find that I relate far more to the old farts than I do the hip young kids. There was a time that I questioned Juno's hamburger phone as something the kids would do. But I kind of let that go and focused on all of the adult characters. I looked at the toxic things that Mark was offering and the temptation to hold onto youth. I saw elements of Vanessa in my wife (the good stuff). The entire film made me wonder which kid was going to drop a huge bombshell on me and how I was going to handle it. But that's kind of what makes it a good film. Cody and Reitman made this film that, yeah, is super twee. But they also populated it with characters that made us sympathize and ignore all of the window dressing that the movie offers.
Juno is one of those movies that I really like. Yeah, it gets into heavy material. Sure, sometimes it feels very self-conscious and desires to cover up flaws with hipster wit (I also really like Gilmore Girls for the record). But at its center is a story of a scared young girl who refuses to be vulnerable, despite the fact that she is sacrificing a year of her life to ensure that a couple has a baby. That's pretty great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.