Last night’s New Year’s Eve festivities included watching Juno, which neither Barbara nor I had seen before, even though it was released over a year ago. On the basis of reviews and personal recommendations, I had expected to like this movie. It exceeded my expectations.
I’m sure everybody knows the plot by this point, but I’ll still stay away from spoilers in these brief comments. My major observation is that all of the actors were entirely convincing in their portrayals of various teens and adults, most notably Ellen Page as Juno, who kept reminding me of various Weston students of mine. No students in particular, I hasten to add — just different generic students at different points. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney were much more genuine than the parents in the typical movie about teenagers, although I kept being distracted because I knew I had seen Simmons before but couldn’t remember where (I’m not good at actors). When I looked him up, I discovered that he plays Dr. Skoda, who appears off and on as the consulting psychiatrist in Law and Order; the temperaments of the two characters are almost identical, thus reinforcing the distraction. Also, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman were effective (if a bit creepy) in their roles as the soon-to-be adoptive parents.
Early in 2008 there was some chatter about whether Juno glamorizes and therefore encourages teenager pregnancy. Frankly, I don’t see it. Admittedly, Juno isn’t portrayed as a bad kid, as the right-wingers would prefer; she doesn’t suffer much for her mistake, and her friends and family are all accepting of her. But that doesn’t mean that the movie glamorizes pregnancy, and since Juno immediately decides to have the baby adopted, it shouldn’t encourage the standard worry among adults that a girl will want to get pregnant in order to have a baby who will love her. In fact, since neither Juno nor her family is dysfunctional, what we have here is simply a straightforward tale of how a normal (if rather counterculture) teenager grows up and interacts with adults and with other kids. It’s well worth seeing, just for the quality of the acting if nothing else — but it’s also worth seeing because it’s such a refreshing and captivating story.
I’ll have to ask my student who recently moved to Weston from Minnesota about St. Cloud, where the adoptive parents live in the movie. The director portrays it as a lot like Weston.
Addendum at 8:10 PM:
I wrote the above earlier in the day. But now I’ve just finished watching the first Greater Boston of the year on WGBH, a retrospective of 2008. Emily Rooney’s guest Dan Kelly (identified just as “attorney”) made the following remarks in connection with the supposed but unproved pregnancy pact among girls at Gloucester High School:
The message of all this is not that more birth control is the answer. The message is that Time Magazine picked up on the bandwagon of sensationalizing teen pregnancy, and that bandwagon is out there because of Britney Spears’ sister pronouncing how wonderful it is to be a teen and to be pregnant… The Juno movie, the Juno effect. The Juno movie in a lot of ways was a great movie from my perspective because it showed the dignity of a human life before it’s born. It’s a pro-life movie and it sends a wonderful message to kids. But it also is a movie that glorifies teen pregnancy to some extent. To say that there will not be that many side-effects, that you can get through it, that it is not such a colossally terrible thing, and it also glorifies in some respects teen sex, although I think the message of that movie is that teens are not prepared to have sex and should not be having sex.
This analysis is just plain wrong. The movie doesn’t glorify teen pregnancy, and it doesn’t send a message. It’s not a political document. It’s a story, a work of art, which presents a group of characters and deals with the internal and external conflicts of the main one, just as stories usually do.