Juno

Directed by Jason Reitman | 96 minutes
Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera

Juno is witty, intelligent and spunky. Its director, Jason Reitman, manages to bring off his second film with originality and charm. The lead actress, Ellen Page, will likely be nominated for an Academy Award — an impressive feat considering her age and slim acting resume. But the best feature of Juno is that it examines the controversial topic of teen pregnancy and builds a secular case for the sanctity of human life.

In the highly charged political atmosphere of the Seventies, movies tended towards a pro-choice slant. Thirty years later, if this film is any indication, things are changing. Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (Page) finds herself pregnant after a casual romp with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (played by the ever-awkward Michael Cera). Like so many in similar situations, Juno’s knee-jerk reaction is to get an abortion, and her girlfriend casually offers to help set up an appointment, mentioning it wasn’t the first time she would help a friend get out of the same hot water.

When Juno arrives at the clinic, she runs into Su-Chin (Valerie Tian), a pro-life classmate picketing in the parking lot. Her appeals to Juno fall on deaf ears until she calls out in desperation, “your child probably has fingernails, you know!” The impact of Su-Chin’s statement resonates with Juno. Realizing that the life growing inside her may be more than just a crimp in her plans to hang out at the mall, she resolves to carry the baby to term before giving it up for adoption. Let the pregnant hijinks begin.

In her quest to find an ideal, loving family, Juno settles on Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Good-looking, affluent, and apparently very much in love, they are the kind of couple that makes single people jealous – the perfect home for Juno’s child.

Of course, life is not always what it seems. Six months into the pregnancy, Mark reveals that he is divorcing Vanessa because he does not feel ready to be a father. He would rather work on his musical career without being burdened by family life. With a broken home seeming inevitable, Juno is faced with the decision of keeping the child – fingernails and all – or finally getting the abortion.

The hardest pill for Juno to swallow throughout the entire film is not her pregnancy, but that the perfect family for her unborn child does not exist. The turning point comes when Juno accepts the reality that a broken home is better than none at all, and ultimately decides to give her child to the now single-parent, Vanessa.

Juno is not your typical teenager. She speaks in Eighties pop culture references, has wisdom beyond her tender years, and seems almost entirely unaffected by nine months of back pain, morning sickness, and social ostracism from her less than compassionate classmates. While many critics may be sceptical of her extraordinary nonchalance, Page’s portrayal is thoroughly believable.

Despite the juvenile lack of romantic judgment, Juno displays a surprising amount of responsibility after the fact. Juno’s father (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney) are relatively relaxed about the whole ordeal — which may have prompted their daughter to keep the child in the first place.

Mark represents the me-first generation. There are some delicious lines in Knocked Up, another surprise hit comedy of 2007 about an unplanned pregnancy, which sum him up. They are too good to omit here. During a dinner conversation, the husband tells his wife that children ruin guys’ plans.

“Like what? You already do everything you want to,” she replies.
“Yes, but what if I wanted to move to India for a year?”
“Do you want to move to India for a year?”
“Well, no, but I couldn’t if I did!”

On the other hand, Paulie’s forthright attitude is an excellent counterpoint to Mark’s flighty disposition. He demonstrates heroism in his willingness to support Juno throughout her pregnancy. Both Paulie and Mark fantasise about rock stardom, but only Paulie is willing to sacrifice his pipe dreams for the greater good. In an ironic twist, Juno demonstrates that age does not necessarily bring maturity.

According to the American Department of Health, there were an estimated 1.3 million abortions in the United States in 2005. In some circles, abortion has become so culturally ingrained that it is no longer viewed as an option but an obligation for teen mothers. This makes it all the more surprising that Juno, a story about a girl who chooses life for her baby, has been a hit with critics. Even if the film fails to contest the legality of abortion, it makes it clear that the life of an unborn child is not so trivial an issue as the media would have you believe.

Juno is rated PG-13 for some rough language and mature themes of casual sex. Nonetheless, this is a refreshing movie to watch with a teenager to help tackle awkward issues, or perhaps as an example for parents to demonstrate how they should support young adults who find themselves in similar situations. It manages to look past the inevitable hardships of teen pregnancy by recognizing the joy that comes with creating life. Despite her age, the lead character is intelligent enough to understand that sometimes doing what everyone else thinks you should do is not necessarily doing what is right.

In a year which has featured many bleak films, Juno is refreshing: a character-driven story about heroism and selflessness during times of struggle and trial. Its characters make mistakes, but they redeem themselves. They remind us that even if we aren’t perfect, we shouldn’t stop trying to get there.

David Demers is a student at the University of Ottawa.