Thursday, January 24, 2008

My thoughts on Juno

I meant to comment on Juno's Academy Award nomination for Best Picture the other day, but I've had more pressing things to write about. I saw the film in a hormone-induced stupor two days before Christmas, and I cried through the entire thing.

Let me just say that, despite the sensitive subject matter, Juno is the perfect companion piece to Napoleon Dynamite, and almost as witty and precise. I've taught girls like Juno before, girls who are still figuring things out for themselves, and I was impressed with the main character's growth as the film progresses.

Since the nominations were announced, a ton of criticism has emerged condemning Juno for making light of something as serious as teenage pregnancy. But I have to disagree. Sure, Juno is just a movie, but it addresses the topic in an original way that falls far from the typical After School Special treatment usually reserved for this subject matter. And it really shouldn't be compared to Knocked Up, either, which does makes light of an unplanned pregnancy between two slacker adults. (I know Katherine Heigl's character is supposed to be successful, so why is she living in her sister's pool house?)

Juno tackles the complexities of teenage awkwardness we all endured, and transforms the title character throughout the course of her pregnancy and her unwavering decision to give her child up for adoption. Not only does Juno find and contact the adoptive parents herself, she moves forward with the plans as the couple's marriage crumbles before her eyes. Juno may not know "what kind of girl" she is, but she understands a woman's desire to become a mother, whatever the cost may be.

In the film's most touching scene, which critics seem to ignore or forget, Juno refuses to hold her child after his birth. The viewer sees the adoptive mother, full of fear and excitement, attempt to hold her new son, while Juno lies sobbing in her bed, mourning the child she has given up. In that instant, Juno's life is forever changed, as is the new mother's, and the film successfully conveys this transformation. And yes, Juno moves forward, as any girl should; but, for me, this scene seals the deal, and the smart-mouthed, slurpee-drinking teenager is replaced by a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. And that's how it should be.

For another take on the movie (which nicely parallels my earlier post on Roe vs. Wade) , read this New York Times piece by Caitlin Flanagan: