Where This Meets That
A few weeks ago, I decided the time was right to watch Juno with my 15-year old son and 12-year old daughter.
Juno is a fresh, light turn on the heavy topic of teenage pregnancy. It was a small-budget romantic comedy film that made a big splash in 2007, garnering four Oscar nominations and winning one, for “Best Original Screenplay.”
The film tells the story of 16-year old Juno MacGuff, whose impulsive first sexual experience, with her geeky best friend, Paulie Bleeker, results in an unwanted pregnancy. Her immediate decision is to have an abortion, as quickly as possible. However, several factors in her experience at the local clinic influence her to change her mind and decide, instead, to carry out the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption.
Early on, the film is fraught with irreverent, tasteless, superficial quips about sexuality and unborn babies. But the frivolity with which these teens jab at these issues is just their way of, as Juno says at one point, “dealing with things way beyond [their] maturity level.”
As adults, we tend to forget that most kids just simply have no way of grasping the gravity of “real world” consequences for their actions. Youth is how they learn to grow up. When Juno first breaks the news to Bleeker that she’s pregnant and intends to get an abortion, she says, “. . . because they were talking about in health class how pregnancy . . . can often lead to an infant,” he responds, feigning calm, “Typically, yeah… Yeah that’s what happens when our moms and teachers get pregnant.”
Throughout, the film does a masterful job of starting with the “unseasoned” perspective of the teenager trying her best to remain a teenager in the face of impending, adult realities, and then punching through to the “other side” of adulthood in ways that kids can absorb. After Juno has taken her pregnancy test in a convenience store restroom, she sees the result as she stands in line to make a purchase, and she continues to shake the test stick, as though it might change. The cashier, seeing this, says, “That ain’t no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, Homeskillet.”
Indeed, pregnancy can’t be “un-did”. It can be terminated but never erased, and Juno soars in its title character’s decision to understand that and persevere. And it’s not easy. Her decision leads her down a stony path of alienation and painful discovery of just how precious life truly is and also how fragile is stability.
Since I first watched it a couple of years ago, I have grown to consider Juno one of the most important films I’ve seen. It is a film full of life lessons, at times humorously and other times touchingly portrayed. But the lessons, while deep, are never preached and are presented in a way that remains hip to youth. That’s why, in spite of some of its questionable content, I wanted to share the film with my eldest kids.
Juno score: 4.5 Falcone Rings