When you’re sixteen, there are a lot of things about life you don’t know to be scared of. Lots of adult experiences and situations look simpler than they really are. Naivety leads to a happy-go-lucky approach to life, that can be both a blessing and a hindrance.
When the third pregnancy test stick turns pink, Juno (played by Ellen Page) has the proof that she really is pregnant, the result of single encounter with her geeky friend and high school runner Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Surrounded by giggly peers, and parents that were hoping that she’d been expelled or had a drug problem rather than expecting, she takes matters into her own hands. Like 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, abortion is her first thought. But the tone of the clinic – and the thought that her foetus might already have fingernails – brings her to a second idea: adoption.
Juno wholeheartedly switches from termination to going full term with hardly a second thought, But befitting a young woman with a sense of value, she’s not going to allow just anyone to adopt her child. Impressed with one young professional couple’s small-ad, she goes along with her Dad to check them out in person.
She finds a desperate childless wife Vanessa (played by Jennifer Garner) and a more reluctant husband Mark (Jason Bateman). Perhaps unconventionally for an adoption in which she has agreed to play no part once the baby is born, Juno keeps the prospective adopters up-to-date with progress and scans, and discovers that she has much in common with Mark, sharing taste in slasher movies and punk rock music.
There’s a great scene where Vanessa is trying to choose between two swatches of yellow paint for the nursery wall. True to form, Mark’s unenthusiastic, though in this instance, who can blame him given that the choice is between custard and cheesecake shades?
My fascination with this often comical film comes from the unexpected paths it travels. Young school girl pregnant is hardly an original starting point for a film. Yet the plot largely avoids the schmaltzy cul-de-sacs that happy-ever-after endings that a lesser movie would have portrayed. Instead, Juno continues to deal with each new twist and turn as an innocent sixteen year old might, maturing as she grows into a “cautionary whale”, but continuing to rely on herself.
If there’s a sadness about the film, it’s that self-reliance and nearly complete lack of support for Juno from other characters. Her bravado overlays her emotional turmoil She journeys alone, against the flow. Medical staff are dismissive, her step-mum (played by Allison Janney of CJ/West Wing fame) is practical but not too touchy-feely, and her friend Leah isn’t so close and loyal to be of much comfort. Towards the end of the ninety minutes, Juno figures out her real feelings for Bleacher, letting the credits roll on a feeling of hope and understanding. (Sales of orange tic tacs must be rocketing.)
There’s a sadness too about the lack of joy in the film. A lack of longing for the baby growing inside Juno (by anyone other than the slightly freaky Vanessa), and a lack of anticipation and yearning in the matter-of-fact way Juno deals with the biology of the situation. Some of that’s part of the teenage world the film depicts ... along with Juno’s sharp wit, lip and thick sarcasm.
Juno is a beautifully shot film, with original devices like breaking the story up into seasons, and the “anonymous Greek chorus of high school runners who appear” whenever Bleeker goes out running in his tiny gold shorts. The film’s shortness allows it to remain quirky without descent into tedium. The hamburger phone is fun. The music brilliantly fits the cast and locations.
And if the Strand Cinema’s projectionist hadn’t switched off the projector half way through the credits I might have discovered on the night who had written and sung the songs. But true to the Strand’s pattern over the last few visits, staying on in your seat to watch the credits and mull over the film isn’t encouraged. Arghh.
I was surprised (but pleased) to read the depth of Peter Bradshaw’s effusive praise in his five-star Guardian review of Juno:
“The film owes its power to Ellen Page’s lovely performance and to [Diablo] Cody’s funny script, which treats the subject of status with shrewdness and compassion. If women all too often find status only in the dangerous and expendable commodity of sexual attractiveness, then in getting pregnant, Juno would seem to have catastrophically abandoned this one tiny prerogative, and looked stupid into the bargain. Yet she finds that, as a pregnant woman, she is the centre of attention, and in offering her child for adoption, she has dizzying power over rich adults. It is a power that gives her insight and clarity, and humbles her elders.”