(2007) dir. Jason Reitman
Like Little Miss Sunshine (2006) the year before it, Juno was the Hollywood Indie (oxymoronic indeed), the “little” film that could. Not exactly art house fare, these films feature “quirky” characters doing “quirky” things. And their success depends on the feelings that they arouse in their audiences. While not the heavy sap of the typical “feel good” movie, there is a definite line of touchy-feely soft-and-fuzziness here. Unlike Little Miss Sunshine, I actually enjoyed Juno.
Starring Ellen Page, who I had liked in Hard Candy (2005), and Superbad‘s (2007) Michael Cera, the film is heavily populated with likeable actors playing likeable characters. And while the film is about teen pregnancy, specifically Ellen Page’s character Juno’s pregnancy, and even while it stirred some controversy and debate outside of itself, the film doesn’t really offer any serious emotional or polemic challenges for any of its characters. The world of Juno, meant to represent Minnesota, is one of quick-witted, nice, sweet people, far kinder and gentler than anything I can think of.
Page is charming, carries across the character in a way that is very believable. And the entire film relies on that specific thing, that she seems somewhat real, definitely enjoyable enough to follow around. Screenwriter Diablo Cody, for whom, like Ellen Page, established a career for herself in Hollywood with the success of this movie, doesn’t really give challenges to Juno, none that she has any real trouble with.
When Juno finds herself pregnant, she’s pragmatic, plans an abortion, talks openly with the baby’s father, heads in to get the job done. Encountering an oddball lone anti-abortionist protestor, a friend from school, and being told that her baby “has fingernails”, this pushes Juno to decide to take the baby to term and give it away. While Cody gives Juno some of the sassy moxie that a 16 year old girl might put on to cover her insecurity and fear, Juno hardly misses a beat. She makes her decision, everyone respects her for it, even her parents and then hunts for a middle class family to take the child. She could have done it all on rollerskates it goes so easy.
It’s even her first couple she encounters that she gives the child to. Her dad accompanies her and she gives the kid up without much thought, without wanting anything in return, and is supported and accepted. Even when the slight challenge of the husband of the couple (Jason Bateman – who I have always liked) decides to ditch the marriage, partially inspired by his attraction to Juno, her funky character and love for music is in stark contrast to his waspy, uptight wife (Jennifer Garner), nothing really happens. Bateman comes right out and says he’s leaving, there are no tears, no screaming…he even gets the divorce papers together without a hitch.
Clearly there is a point at which his character could have made a move on Juno. Their intimate movie watching and guitar playing, even her potential attraction to him could have made things more complicated. But no. It’s all on the up-and-up and everything turns out hunky-dory. What a wonderful world! With a cutesy, easy soundtrack of simple vocal and guitar songs about cutesy love.
It is likeable. I liked it. But it’s such fantasy. So Juno’s choices (no abortion, give away the baby in a “closed” adoption) are not challenged, though there is somewhat of a message given in this film even if it tries to avoid such things. Even working things out with Cera’s character…is life ever really like that?
Why question it, I guess. Kind of like why question the science in a bad science fiction film. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.