Ellen Page and Michael Cera Bring Teen Pregnancy to the Big Screen
Juno Cover Art, Art Directors: Michael Diner & Catherine Schroer
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, this film about an unexpected pregnancy will speak to anyone who has felt like a stranger in his or her own skin.
Juno MacGuff, a witty and eccentric sixteen-year-old, finds herself pregnant after a sexual encounter with Paulie Bleeker, a close friend and a nerdy member of the Dancing Elk High School track team. Played by Ellen Page and Michael Cera, respectively, these characters embody the awkward and gawky teenage years in a form that is rarely captured in its full glory.
Dialogue and Symbolism
At times both heartbreaking and unrealistic, the dialogue in this film captures an extraordinary affect. There are some unexpectedly straightforward conversations between parent and child as well as a fair amount of exaggerated teen speak, but the film is also peppered with enough humor to distract from the trauma of the situation and enough sarcasm and wit to satiate any cynic. With the dichotomy between discussing teen pregnancy over a hamburger telephone, throwing up blue slurpie in the urn her step-mother has placed by the front door, and then pacing in the kitchen in front of her dad and step-mom as she is forced to tell them the news, Juno continuously navigates the tedious adolescent line between adult and child.
Yet although she must navigate this new and unfamiliar identity, Juno, named for one of the supreme Roman goddesses, shares many characteristics with her namesake. As a Roman goddess and the wife of Jupiter, Juno was the patroness of marriage and fertility, often closely associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Her connection to the character in this film thus goes largely without saying. In addition, her symbol was the peacock, a bird whose flesh was often thought by the ancients to be incapable of decay. In this manner, she symbolized rebirth and renewal, tying her even more closely to the process that the character undergoes throughout this film. But, leave it to Diablo Cody not to take the symbolism too far as not even the employee at the abortion clinic would believe that Juno MacGuff was her legitimate given name.
As the film progresses, the audience watches Juno contemplate her options, considering whether she will give birth or terminate her pregnancy. Upon her visit to the Women Now clinic, Juno experiences an encounter with a classmate who is “protesting” and who informs Juno that her baby has fingernails. Although played off in a somewhat casual manner, it is clear that this fact sticks with Juno and causes her to think twice. The silence in the clinic echoes loudly in Juno’s mind and she makes a quick escape. When she arrives at her friend’s house, she says she couldn’t go through with it because the clinic smelled too much like a dentist’s office.
Instead, Juno decides to make it through her pregnancy and remain in school, amidst the stares and comments of her classmates. When she sees an ad for a couple in the PennySaver who are seeking a child, Juno decides that she will pursue this course of action and allow her child to be adopted by the couple. Yet, despite appearances, Cody reminds us in her script that things are rarely as perfect as they appear, and we soon learn that this couple has issues of their own.
Why the Hype?
Grappling with hurt, disappointment, and frustration while at the same time rejoicing in the miracle of life and love, this film takes its audience on an emotional journey. In the end, surrounded by those who know and love her, Juno is able to stand on her own two feet and make the choice that brings the film to resolution and brings the story full-circle.
With a talented cast that (mostly) avoids the A-list spotlight and a script that honors an obsession with orange flavored Tic-Tacs, this film has garnered hype for all the right reasons. A little bit of “The Breakfast Club” and a touch of “Pretty in Pink,” mixed right in with elements of “Reality Bites,” there is little doubt that this movie will be for the current generation what the Brat Pack films became for the children of the 80s and 90s.
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