Finally saw Juno last week. I had high expectations and was afraid I'd be a little let down. I had been told by many friends, media analyses and Oprah to see the film. I sat through the first 3 minutes thinking I was about to be let down. About to be disappointed by a film that did not live up to its hyped reputation. And after 3 minutes I settled into a blissful movie experience. Juno is incredible. The press has over-blown how "feel good" it is but under-estimated how good the cast is. The script is witty (almost *too* witty because, really, who gets to be that funny all the time). The acting is superb. The cultural message sharp. I laughed out loud and I cried a ridiculous amount. Seriously. I cried A LOT.
There has been quite a bit of praise for Juno and some negative reviews about its handling of the question of reproductive choice. Since my admiration for the movie directly stems from my [lack of] cultural critique, I thought I would chime in on the debate. **major spoilers to follow**
Some people are opposed to the movie because a teenager who has no aspirations to be a young mother decided to have the baby rather than abort. I don't really understand this critique. Pro-choice people cannot be anti-birth. We can't. We can't only support women who CHOOSE to undergo an abortion. In terms of cinema pragmatics, we kinda needed a pregnancy to have a movie. However, Juno--unlike Knocked Up--actually discusses abortion as an option. And discusses it in a way that does not demonize women who go that route. In fact, the person that is demonized in the film is the crazy (and probably pretty accurate) abortion protester posted outside the clinic. The characters in the film that are punished by the script are the judgmental ones who are critical of Juno in one way or another. A telling example of this is when Juno's step-mother verbally lashes the ultrasound technician who treats Juno unfairly. Juno, however, is rewarded for being a smart, articulate, responsible (yes, responsible--sex does not make one irresponsible). She comes out on top. She is a good woman despite her sexual choices.
As the movie was coming to a close, I started to feel my blood boil. I thought I could predict an unhappy ending to the film. The "perfect" adoptive couple was moving toward divorce and it seemed inevitable that the newly single woman would not be able to adopt Juno's child. But instead, according to plan, the baby was given to the woman. The single woman. THE SINGLE WOMAN! Woot, woot! In an amazing turn of events, the script did not end with a perfect nuclear family running off into a traditional family valued sunset. Families are messy. Mothers, especially single mothers, are strong. I am so sick of Hollywood feeding us a spoonful of family crap that tastes like traditional family structures (Knocked Up, I'm looking at YOU).
The ending is incredibly progressive. Not only because the single woman is accepted as a mother but because it shows the suffering that Juno felt with her decision. Not so much suffering that she regrets her decision. But enough suffering that the viewer knows that adoption is not an "easy option." It was a big kick in the teeth to all those anti-choice activists out there that advocate a woman just "put the baby up for adoption" rather than abort. Adoption is painful. Abortion is painful. Being a parent is painful. This movie shows all of that pain without advocating one option over the other. The movie simply deals with the option that Juno chose. The best part of the movie for me was the very end. The final scene showed Juno being young. It showed her getting ready to lead the rest of her life. It showed her happy. Contrary to popular belief, teenagers who get pregnant are not lost causes. They can move on and be productive members of society. *gasp* Did Juno have a rough go of it? Yes. Did she miss prom? Yes. Did she regret not using a condom? Yes. Was she a ruined being? No. The lasting impression from the movie was that she was going to make it. She was going to be okay. That was a powerful message.
Relatedly, I must say how much I adored Juno's parents. Good god, I wanted to squeeze them. They were the perfect blend of sad, scared and supportive. The most moving scene in the movie was when Juno's father comforted her post-birth by saying "sometime you'll be back on your own terms." This was the father who told Juno that he thought "she knew when to say when." I ached for the father. He was so disappointed throughout the film. Yet he was so loving. I remember asking my mom what she would have done had I gotten pregnant as a teenager. She replied that she would have "loved me." I thought it was a pretty simple answer at the time. Juno made me realize how complicated "loving" your child really is. The movie was a huge middle finger to parents who abandon their children just when they need them most.
Finally, I have to touch on the one thing that did bother me in the movie. And the one thing I don't see a lot of feminist critics addressing. Juno's relationship with Mark. Skeevy. Gave me the heeby jeebies. And I don't understand it. Clearly Mark was re-living his youth through Juno. Clearly she was reaching out to him as a stable family man. They were both searching. I got that. I didn't need the creepy, border line romance between them. It all turned out fine in the end but I don't get that component. Part of me thinks the relationship needed to happen like that to point out how unready for fatherhood Mark was--despite his age and marital status. But the other part of me thinks the relationship just needlessly pushed the envelope. I'm still thinking about that. Regardless, the relationship did not kill the movie for me. It just added another level.
Juno was awesome. Even if you don't watch it with feminist glasses, you'll love it. In fact, maybe you'll love it even more because you won't be fearing a cultural shoe to drop. Oh! And the soundtrack is top-notch.