Making the Grades
Juno is fresh and quirky in much the same way as Napoleon Dynamite, another independent film from 2004. It too is about the bumps and pitfalls of adolescent life. But in this case it happens to be a pregnancy bump.
Whether out of boredom or sheer experimentation, long time friends Juno MacDuff (Ellen Page) and Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) decide to do it one night. (We see the event in repeated flashbacks that include near nudity.) The reason for this change in their platonic relationship is unclear but the positive reading on each of the three pregnancy tests Juno takes at the local drugstore is certain. Realizing she can no longer deny the facts, the expectant teen, with support from her girlfriend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), finally confesses her condition to her dad (J.K. Simmons) and step mom (Allison Janney).
Although disappointed, they prove to be amazingly supportive of Juno, who has already decided to pass on an abortion and place her baby with a couple she found in the local ad rag. With her dad by her side, Juno makes the hour-long drive to the upscale suburban home where she meets Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) Loring, a young husband and wife desperately hoping to adopt. With no more than a brief introduction and the discovery that Mark loves music, Juno is willing to sign whatever papers it takes to hand over her little problem. But even for a teen as slapdash as Juno, the decision isn't without emotional complications.
Spouting off-the-cuff remarks, Juno's character may be entertaining but is equally disconcerting considering the implications of her situation. Paulie, in his short shorts and sports headband, is a marginal doofus yet has enough goodness to make him likeable, even if he is largely indifferent about his role in conception. They, along with many of the film's other actors, bring an engaging presence to the screen, which is likely fueling the film's critical acclaim.
However, for family viewing, the movie has a darker side. Juno's attitude about sex, pregnancy and the future of her child are unnervingly casual at times. The script implies that most, if not all, teens are sexually active and that the drawbacks are few as long as one avoids the inconvenience of an unwanted baby. Male anatomy and the sexual act are also discussed frequently, frankly and with plenty of crude dialogue. As well, the film hints at an unhealthy attraction between Mark and Juno.
Even with abundant family support, Juno, at 16, is mature enough to realize she's in no position to raise a baby. Yet immaturity still plays a role in the actions of many involved in this high school drama. While Napoleon Dynamite creators took a humorous although plausible look at the juvenile actions of adolescence and gave audiences plenty to laugh about, this same offbeat approach to the emotional issues of sexual activity, teen pregnancy, abortion and adoption may give audiences more than they are expecting.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Juno.
How does Juno’s pregnancy affect her in comparison to the effects felt by Paulie? Does he suffer any consequences for his involvement? What are the repercussions for Juno? What is the film’s overall attitude toward sexual activity among teens?
What difficult decisions does Juno have to face once she discovers she is pregnant? Are those choices realistically depicted? What other issues might arise for teens in this situation?
How does Juno’s family support her? How do you feel about their reaction? What kinds of agencies are designed to help in these circumstances?