Is there anything funny about a sixteen year old girl getting pregnant? Actually, there’s quite a bit in the new film Juno.
A smart and smart-mouthed Minnesota teen named Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) finds herself pregnant after her first sexual experience with a shy, nerdy classmate (Michael Cera). Her first inclination is to abort the child and she even goes to a clinic for the procedure. But an encounter with a friend from school—along with the comically bizarre abortion clinic—results in Juno rushing out and soon after deciding to give her baby up for adoption. After searching for prospective parents in the local Penny Saver, she decides on Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) a seemingly-perfect, well-off suburban couple eager to adopt a child.
Goofy and Genuine
Juno manages to walk the fine line between edgy, witty, crass, and heartfelt. The reaction of Juno’s parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) to her pregnancy news is particularly poignant. They’re shocked but supportive in a way one hopes good parents would be. Juno’s school friend—who is also the lone Christian protester outside the abortion clinic— could have easily been a source of mockery instead of the goofy but genuinely sincere character who makes a valid point that gets through to Juno.
Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman also make the most of their roles as a couple whose veneer of perfection shows cracks as the story progresses. Garner especially stands out as she conveys the longing of a woman unable to have biological children. Though she initially appears to be a hard-nosed June Cleaver, her character’s deep desire to become a mother eventually shines through. As Vanessa, Garner moves past the limitations of the lighter roles she’s played in “Alias” or 13 Going on Thirty and conveys a maturity and sensitivity that takes her to a new level as an actress. Perhaps giving birth to her own daughter gave her an enlightening perspective on this role.
Ultimately, Juno is carried on the more-than-capable shoulders of Ellen Page in the title role. She is the endearing outsider created out of the “Freaks-and-Geeks” mold who combines snarkiness with vulnerability and a growing maturity as she tries to find her identity in the world.
Whether or not it was writer Diablo Cody’s intention, some will consider aspects of the movie to be pro-life, though in truth it goes beyond that. This isn’t a movie that has an agenda; there isn’t any sermonizing about pro-life or pro-choice politics. Instead Juno simply tells an engaging story by allowing the characters’ choices and experiences speak for themselves.
Juno conveys the positive and challenging aspects of one teen’s journey through an unplanned pregnancy—how she can’t bear to dispose of the life inside her and comes to make the selfless choice of delivering the baby because there are many loving people in this world who want it. In one sense, Juno’s experience is idyllic because she has the unwavering support of family and friends to get her through. If actual pregnant teens had that same kind of support, there’s no doubt fewer would choose to terminate their pregnancy, making Juno a pro-life film in a much larger sense.