This is so not a first viewing for me. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this movie again since I saw it over the summer. Ellen Page (playing the lead Juno MacGuff) is a reason to get out of bed – her performance is revelatory, hilarious, and inspirational. But I’m getting ahead of myself. After all, even the DVD title credits are cool…
“It started with a chair…” Juno says, wiping some Sunny D from her lips. It is an utterly awkward teenage love scene but what an intro that transitions into a great animated title sequence by shadowplay. Seriously, one of the best – an instant classic.
“Well, well, if it isn’t MacGuff the crime dog. Back for another test? Your egg-o is preg-o.”
That’s right, our teenage heroine (who is sixteen), who has spent all of thirty seconds of the film fondly recalling the love she shared in the recliner sitting outside in a yard sale is pregnant. In one hand she holds the pregnancy stick and a bag of licorice in the other. One of the best props in film history? Juno’s hamburger phone. That thing is absolutely ridiculous. Especially as she uses it to phone her best friend and they discuss where Juno will go to have the pregnancy terminated: “I’m going to go to Women Now, because they help women now.”
Michael Cera is Bleeker (as boyfriends go, Bleeker is totally boss), the object of Juno’s affection and father to the tiny bun inside her oven. She enlists the help of her friend, Leah (played by Olivia Thirlby) to reclaim the love recliner (in addition to a wicked tiger rug, indoor chiminea, end table, and lamp) in order to tell Bleeker she’s pregnant the following morning as he is about to go running. This scene is so telling of Juno’s character – what trouble she goes to in order to make such an elaborate scene during this moment, a moment that Bleeker is never going to forget anyway.
“So, guess what?” Juno asks, sucking on an unlit pipe. “I’m pregnant.”
“What should we do?” Bleeker asks, hot pocket in one hand, his eyes unblinking.
“I was thinking I’d just nip it in the bud. Before it gets worse. They were talking in health class how pregnancy can often lead to an infant.” Juno replies, feigning strength.
Juno is unlike any girl (teenage or otherwise) you’ve probably ever met, but she reminds me of my best friend in college. Smart (to the point of causing herself physical damage), funny, brutally honest, and self-deprecating. After all, it takes quite a woman (of any age) to be quite this frank: “I’m just calling to procure a hasty abortion…what? Can you just hang on for a second, I’m on my hamburger phone…”
We get establishing shots here of Juno’s father (played by J.K. Simmons) and step-mother (the ever-fabulous Allison Janney), Bren who is a manicurist and dog-fanatic. And as Juno makes her way to Women Now for her hasty abortion, she runs into a foreign exchange student, Su-Chin (Valerie Tian) who chants outside the clinic “All babies want to get bored! All babies want to get bored!”
It may be hard to imagine what this would feel like as a sixteen year old girl who has only had sex the one time, but somehow I think this would be a hard experience for any woman. With subject matter that’s as heavy as teen pregnancy, you somehow expect that Juno isn’t going to make you laugh as much as you’re going to — even as she flees the clinic and runs home, you find yourself laughing as she tells her friend Leah about the clinic’s receptionist who has tried to give her free condoms that look like grape suckers. It’s then when she decides she’s going to keep the baby and give it to “a woman with a bung ovaries, or a couple of nice lesbos…”
In the days that follow, Juno and Leah set out to find her unborn child an adoptive family within the Penny Saver local newspaper. When at last they find an ad placed by educated, successful couple Mark (Jason Batemen) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) she thinks she’s found what she’s looking for.
With her best friend Leah’s support, she faces her dad and step-mother with the news. They brace themselves for the worst and as Juno lays out her plan, apologizing profusely along the way, she says as a consolation, “I have heart burn radiating down to my knee caps.” Yeah, that would help me get through the news my teenage daughter was up the duff.
“Who’s the father, Juno?” Her father asks with a furrowed brow.
“Uh, it’s Paulie Bleeker…” she replies, looking pale.
“Paulie Bleeker? I didn’t think he had it in him.”
The dialogue in the film is all so brilliant you should really just read the screenplay or watch the film with the subtitles on so you don’t miss anything.
I can identify here when Juno’s dad, with tears in his eyes rips into Juno “I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.” and Juno, knowing she has just broken her dad’s heart says softly “I don’t really know what kind of girl I am.” I’m a daddy’s girl too, and you just never get to the age where you aren’t.
The scene in which Juno and her father take the Previa through Glacial Estates to meet Mark and Vanessa, passing by McMansion after McMansion you get a sense of what this couple is about before you even meet them: tight-laced, clean, affluent, uptight.
“How far along are you?” Mark and Vanessa’s lawyer asks.
“I’m a junior…” Juno responds, seriously.
You immediately believe Vanessa as the desperate 30-something married woman who has empty-nest syndrome, and even I can hear her clock ticking. Mark, on the other hand, is rigid and tense. You can probably tell right away that he’s not as interested in becoming a father as his wife is in becoming a mother. Juno sneaks off to the bathroom to gather some information about the couple (laugh out loud at the photos of Mark and Vanessa as Juno climbs the stairs). When Mark comes up to check on Juno, the two find a common interest in Mark’s music room (a room Vanessa has given him for all of his stuff). The two have a great conversation about music – Mark’s into grunge, Juno feels the punk from ’77. I love these two actors together. Their chemistry may seem a bit off because of the age difference, but don’t get grossed out…yet.
You know exactly who you’re dealing with when Vanessa comes upstairs to bust in on Mark and Juno’s impromptu jam session. Gotta keep pushing forward, you know, and she lays the pressure on thick.
“No, seriously if I could just have the thing and give it to you now I totally would, but I’m guessing it looks probably like a sea monkey right now and we should let it get a little cuter,” Juno says as they prepare to leave.
As Winter arrives, word gets out that Juno is pregnant (well, hard to hide a baby bump like that – even if you cover it up with fantastic screen-printed t-shirts) and that Bleeker is the father. The two, surprisingly, don’t become any closer during the first trimester of Juno’s pregnancy. Bleeker wanders around like an idiot, not knowing what to do. Poor sod. And when Juno goes to the gynecologist for her first ultrasound, the technician is totally nasty to her. But Bren is there (thank goodness) and in good form. She puts the hag in her place. I’m thankful for that – in bad situations I don’t always know what I should say and I can’t help feeling as though if I had a Bren in my life, everything would somehow be okay, even if some night-school technician cranked out on me.
Love the bonding sequence that follows as Juno delivers the first ultrasound photo to Mark (finding Vanessa out working late) — they debate over who is the master of horror: Dario Argento (Juno) or Herschel Gordon Lewis (Mark). They spend the afternoon together sharing their “dove-tailing interests.”
When Vanessa finally comes home, she questions Juno’s presence “your parents are probably wondering where you are…”
Juno retorts, with her impeccably dry delivery, “Nah, I mean I’m already pregnant so what other shenanigans can I get into?”
Back at home, Bren lectures Juno on the boundaries of marriage, warning her not to spontaneously drop by Mark and Vanessa’s house without first calling. Juno retreats to Bleeker’s house for comfort. The two talk about their child’s adoptive parents and instead of being a man, which of course he isn’t, he tells her after the pregnancy thing is over they should get their band back together. And, maybe they should get back together, too. This is when Juno tells Bleeker he should date a girl that smells like soup.
Meanwhile, Vanessa and Mark debate dessert colored paint for the nursery. Again, you sense Mark’s utter lack of enthusiasm and Vanessa’s aching desperation for a child. I’ve had the twinges, I think every woman has at one time or another, but nothing on par with what Vanessa must be feeling in this film. Garner is fragile, awkward as she gets on both knees, her hands on Juno’s stomach, when one day they run into one another at the mall. She speaks softly to the baby inside Juno’s womb in an attempt to get the baby to kick. “It’s magical,” she whispers.
Spring brings the elastic to Juno’s favorite jeans and cargo pants. More and more, Juno turns to Mark as her substitute male in Bleeker’s mental, emotional, and physical absence. She calls Mark one day before lunch and the two talk about music. Later, over a long lunch, she and Leah sit in a display box (check out the trail of food trash next to Juno) and discuss Bleeker’s soup-scented-prom-date, Katrina DaVore. How hurt would you be if the guy who got you pregnant didn’t even invite you to prom?
Juno and Bleeker finally have their first fight since the pregnancy and you feel a sense of relief that these two characters are finally talking to one another even if they are being immature and well, actually acting their age (for once).
“I still have your underwear,” Bleeker says.
“I still have your virginity,” Juno scorches back.
Juno runs off to Mark’s house for a little comfort. They listen to some of Juno’s music and you feel so sad in a way for both of these characters at this particular moment — Mark confesses that he’s leaving Vanessa. Juno freaks. And a general meltdown transpires as Mark admits he has feelings for Juno, or, at least no longer has feelings for Vanessa. You can’t blame him for having the doubts. You can’t blame him for realizing he’s not ready. And, you can’t blame him for the cold feet and “being a guy.” It’s just sad that he’s waited until Juno is so pregnant and so involved to accept that the way he feels is normal.
For the first time since getting pregnant, you see Juno cry, pulled over in the Previa on the side of the road, rubbing her large, extended belly. But, as soon as it begins, it passes. Her strength and resolve regained. She’s on this journey alone, after all, and she can at least count on herself. Later that night, beneath the sign for the Milk & Honey cafe, she writes Vanessa a note. And as Mark and Vanessa discuss the details of their “collaborative divorce” Juno delivers the note (written hastily on the back of a Jiffy Lube receipt) which reads “Vanessa – if you’re still in I’m still in – Juno”
The final word: Juno is the sweetest film you’re going to find dealing with things that are probably “way beyond your maturity level.” The characters are so intricately developed and you never for a moment want them to be anything more or less than they are. You’ll fall in love with Ellen Page again and again (don’t miss her in Hard Candy) and find new things in her performance every time you see Juno.
Explore more –
Official site: Juno
Wiki facts: Juno
Watch or Buy: Juno on Amazon