By Tim St. Onge
For a movie that takes the issue of teen pregnancy head on, it’s refreshing that “Juno” comes off as innocent.
A dark comedy about an unwelcome surprise for a high school teenager, “Juno’s” laughs respectably rely on the quirkiness of the characters and the oddity of their situation rather than raunchy jokes about teens fooling around. Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, the indie film was a surprising hit at the box office when it opened on Christmas Day. The film continues to attract large audiences and critical acclaim.
The movie, unsurprisingly, focuses primarily on Juno, the smart-alecky but still lovable teen child-bearer played superbly by Ellen Page. After an awkward, unprotected sexual encounter with her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera of “Superbad” and “Arrested Development” fame) spurred by “boredom,” her fear of pregnancy is realized.
After ducking out of an abortion clinic and coming clean about the situation with her parents, Juno finds an ad in the newspaper for a couple looking do adopt a baby and decides to give hers up to them.
The chosen couple is the tightly-wound Vanessa Carlton, played by Jennifer Garner, and her laid-back, former rocker husband Mark, played by Jason Bateman, another “Arrested Development” alum.
What makes “Juno” unique is not only the movie’s confident and intimate focus on the hot-button issue of teen pregnancy, but also Juno’s witty, self-deprecating awareness of her difficult predicament.
Summing up her ever-sharp humor, when Vanessa asks Juno if her parents are worried not knowing where she is, Juno responds, “Nah, I mean I’m already pregnant so what other kind of shenanigans can I get into?”
Juno’s parents, father Mac MacGuff (J. K. Simmons) and stepmother Brenda “Bren” MacGuff (Allison Janey), similarly don’t take the news of Juno’s pregnancy as hard as one might expect: while still quite upset and disappointed, they outright prefer she was pregnant as opposed to “expelled or into hard drugs.”
The quirky behavior of the characters offers a light-hearted take on an issue that seems far from light-hearted; this is a comedy after all.
The comedic elements of the film, however, do not save the movie from venturing into some dark plot turns as Juno’s pregnancy begins to take its toll on her.
Despite her smart, audacious persona, as Juno herself puts it, she is, “dealing with things way beyond my maturity level.” It’s not hard to feel sorry for Juno, as her pregnancy only amplifies her status at school as somewhat of an outcast.
Paulie, on the other hand, is what can best be described as a “running geek,” as his scrawny, insecure character is anchored in running and he is often shown in the burgundy sweatshirt, golden running shorts and matching wrist and headbands.
Together, they represent average high school teens, which makes their story particularly interesting and funny.
Music is a great recurring element in the movie as Juno and Mark Carlton share a love of alternative music and it makes Juno a “music geek” on the school social scene. The movie name-drops acts such as Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth, the Melvins, and Alice in Chains.
The soundtrack, however, is dominated by the minimalist acoustic work of Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches. A cover of a Moldy Peaches song by Juno and Paulie is one of the more touching highlights of the film.
With the nature of Juno and Paulie’s “relationship” left unspoiled for viewers to see for themselves, “Juno’s” biting humor tempered by some difficult struggles make the story seem very true-to-life.
Instead of exaggerating the characters’ circumstances to create some no-holds-barred, politically incorrect comedy or a teen melodrama, the filmmakers settle on an easy-to-swallow medium that portrays its characters like they are real people. On the strong acting foundations of Ellen Page, Michael Cera, and others, “Juno” delivers an atypical coming-of-age tale with genuine laughs along the way.