Before this year's Academy Awards I made a point of seeing as many nominated films as possible, which was a satisfying undertaking because, by and large, it was a good year for movies and for the Awards. While I have no argument with the phenomenal and entirely worthy Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men winning this year's Best Picture award, it was not my favorite movie of the year. Nope, the 2007 film I loved from beginning to end, that made me laugh and made me cry, the film whose soundtrack (a current favorite of mine and my kids) I bought, the film I now, happily, own on DVD, the film I will watch repeatedly through the years and look forward to sharing with my kids in a year or two, is a little gem whose creator, Diablo Cody, earned (and I mean earned) the Best Original Screenplay award. My favorite American film of 2007 is Jason Reitman's Juno.
I hadn't realized, until watching it again on DVD, that Juno is rated PG-13; I suppose I had assumed it was rated R because of the subject matter (ostensibly teen pregnancy). Upon re-watching it, however, I found I not only agreed with the rating, it made me reconsider the age at which I would share the film with our daughters and son.
While the most obvious plotline is teen pregnancy, the tagline describes Juno best: "A comedy about growing up ... and the bumps along the way." Now, there are those, I am sure, who regard teen pregnancy as inappropriate subject matter for a comedy; and it is, indubitably, a serious matter. I would suggest, however, that a sense of humor is often the most effective tool to employ when trying to make the best of an otherwise untenable situation.
Furthermore, while humor abounds throughout Juno, it is not a hilarious, bust-a-gut comedy. It's more a comedy in the way that, if you pay attention, real life is sometimes comical -- but with infinitely better dialogue. While not every teenager has to deal with unwanted pregnancy (thank God!), they all, no matter how apparently well-adjusted and secure, have to learn who they are and how to navigate the world beyond childhood. This is beautifully illustrated in the film when Juno (the absolutely pitch-perfect Ellen Page) breaks the news of her pregnancy to her parents. Her father (J.K. Simmons) says, "I thought you were the kind of girl who knows when to say when," to which Juno replies, "I don't really know what kind of girl I am."
And again later, when her stepmother, Brenda, (Allison Janney) tries to explain that it isn't okay for Juno to go unannounced and alone to visit her baby's adoptive father-to-be (Jason Bateman) saying, "You don't understand … there are boundaries … you don't know squat about the dynamics of marriage." This film would give a teen plenty to think about while, perhaps, comforting them with the knowledge that they are not alone in their sometimes painful journey toward adulthood. It certainly gave this 40-year-old plenty of food for thought.
One of the questions Juno brought to my mind was, what would I do? How would Mr. Wonderful and I handle the situation if one of our girls came and told us, while still in high school, or even college, that she was pregnant? While I can not say for sure, I hope we would summon the same grace as Mac and Brenda MacGuff who, while clearly shocked and less than delighted, deal with the reality of a pregnant teenage daughter in a pragmatic, supportive and loving manner. I love it when, after discussing the situation, Brenda says to Mac, "Somebody else is gonna find a precious blessing from Jesus in this garbage dump of a situation."
Another reason I admire this film and think it will be valuable for our kids is that it doesn't overly glamorize Juno's situation. Always one to swim against the tide, Juno's pregnancy makes her not only different, but an outcast. As she tells Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), the adoptive mother-to-be, "They call me the cautionary whale." In a confrontation with her friend, Paulie Bleeker (the superb Michael Cera ), who also happens to be the baby's father, Juno's otherwise tough facade breaks down. The conversation, superficially about Paulie's choice of prom date, is really about Juno's loneliness, confusion and fear of abandonment.
Throughout the film Juno is dealing with issues "way above (her) maturity level" and she knows it. So does the audience. That is why, if for no other reason, I think this is a valuable film for teens, and their parents. Premature sex is risky business with potentially overwhelming consequences. Many kids might pay more attention to that warning when it comes in the form of a cautionary tale, particularly if the person telling it is a "cautionary whale."
Juno is now on DVD and Blu-ray. The extras include an enjoyable commentary track from director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Also here are behind-the-scenes production featurettes, 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary, screen tests, a gag reel, a gag take, a music jam session with the cast and crew, trailers, and Fox's "Inside Look" on the movie.