How mature were you in high school? How’s that for a loaded question. Were you invincible? Were you destined for greatness (or are you still)? How smart were you? How clever? How secure? Were the adults in your life good role models, or did you have to figure out maturity and adulthood for yourself? How far along are you in that process?
Despite this film featuring another preternaturally wise and mature kid (a 16-year old this time), Ellen Page in the title role of Juno pulls this off and makes me believe. She’s the only one that seems to be able to handle things like an adult, despite the fact that she’s only 16. The blending of worldly sarcasm with the emotional angst and confusion of adolescence was powerfully portrayed through Juno’s experiences.
I could have done without the foul language. I am dismayed at how casually sexual conduct among minors is displayed. Yet I’m also well aware that, probably more than we like to think, this is what’s happening in high schools all over the country. The running gag on the term ‘sexually active’ is an interesting one. And I find it kind of disturbing when the last scene of a movie is somebody (anybody) flipping the camera the bird.
Overall the lesson seems to be that life is not perfect, no matter how well you plan it out. The perfectly planned evening of passion can wind up in an unexpected pregnancy. The perfect couple with everything our culture dictates as indicators of success – a house, wealth, good looks, etc. – is not necessarily perfectly happy. The perfect solution to an unexpected problem can have monkey wrenches thrown into it that nobody could have foreseen.
So you make the best of it. And over and over again throughout the film, that’s what the characters do. They make the best of it. And no, it’s not perfect, but they get through it. Juno’s parents have to do this. The adoptive couple has to do this. Juno herself has to do this. Since nothing in the world is perfect, you just have to do the best you can. And sometimes, even when you’re 16, that might be enough.
Except, of course, it isn’t. And while the movie’s ending may be charming and romantic to a 16-year old, some of us who have been around the block a few more times recognize it for the hopelessly naive fantasy it is – or at least we should. The writer directs derision at a variety of targets throughout the film – materialism, parents who seem less than helpful and parental, and adults who act like children, to name a few. However, she ends up with the same problem of anyone who has nothing more to pin hope on than ourselves. She has no substitute. No alternative except for ‘making the best of what you’ve got’. Failing, in the process, to realize that this is *exactly* what everyone else around Juno is doing, even those whom she derides and makes fun of. The movie once again reinforces that, as much as we may detest the way some people live (or fail to live) their lives, without something greater and deeper than us giving us insights about a better alternative, there is no real basis to detest these behaviors and choices.
I’d love to find a movie as compelling as this that offers more hope than the hope of a 16-year old in a high school romance. A film that can admit that if all we have to hope for and in is ourselves, we’re pretty screwed. A film that’s unafraid to assert that we *aren’t* in this alone. Because then there would be a basis for the criticism and the derision. As it is, we just get to watch what the writer doesn’t care for, acknowledging that she has no more right to feel that way than we do – or is it every bit as much right? Without something greater than ourselves to guarantee rights, both options end up looking frighteningly similar before long.
The performances are very good – and none better than Ellen Page. It’s personally freaky to see Jason Bateman as an adult, and ironic that he’s playing an adult who can’t seem to grow up. The movie is outright hilarious in parts, and entertaining and humorous throughout. My personal fav is one of the ads for adoptive parents that Juno and her friend run across in the Pennysaver. Basically an ad advertising a perfect couple that have everything they need “except for your bastard”. Hilarious! Jennifer Garner was pretty two-dimensional in her role, but that was intentional so she can hardly be faulted. Too much of a range of emotions and issues to sort through in the limited time the film allocates for it.
Finally, I think the film did a good job of dealing with the whole issue of abortion vs. adoption. Quirky, sure. But sometimes, that’s how it works. The movie does not place a strong judgment on the issue (Juno originally plans to have an abortion). However, it makes an eloquent appeal to selflessness in the midst of a thoroughly selfish culture. Juno’s decision seems hardly heroic, and more of a random thing. But a random comment can make all the difference in the choices we end up making. I’m pleased to see a movie that deals well with demonstrating the joy that can be had in choosing to go through with an unexpected pregnancy. While it could undoubtedly focus more on the difficulty of such a choice, that would make the movie less of a comedy.