Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Random Thoughts about Juno

***There will be spoilers in this post, even though they probably won't be terribly integral to plot. Consider yourself warned.****

So I went to see Juno last night with BFF, and I found it really... troubling. And I couldn't quite put my finger on why I found it so troubling until this morning. See, here's the thing. The general buzz I'd heard about the movie was something like the following from Entertainment Weekly:

"But director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody really don't give a hoot what you think about the right to life/right to choose/right to make jokes about teen sex. Their movie, a blithe charmer balanced somewhere between a life-should-be-so-neat fairy tale and a life's-a-real-bitch tragicomedy, leaves political debate at the ticket counter and focuses solely on what it's like for Juno MacGuff to be Juno MacGuff. And damned if the girl, as played by Hard Candy's radiantly no-nonsense Page, isn't who every whip-smart young moviegoing woman cheered by My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Daria, and the graphic novels of Daniel Clowes ought to aspire to be. Minus the unprotected sex."

Um, yeah, except I don't think that's a fair assessment of the movie. I think the movie does glorify Juno's choice to have the baby and to give it up for adoption (without exploring in a real way what consequences for such a decision might actually look like), but even more than that, I think the movie has a really dark view of what adult gender roles are supposed to look like and what it's supposed to mean to "grow up," at least as seen through the lens of the adoptive couple whom Juno chooses for her kid. What "growing up" means for the Jason Bateman character is selling out and giving up his dreams, his "real life" and stuff relegated to a room he's been given in his McMansion, and when he decides that he can't live like that, well, we hate him for it, in spite of the fact that his McMansion life really does suck in a great many ways. Now, I've gone out with the guy whom I'll call "The Sonic Youth Guy," and I understand the impulse to vilify that guy (Aside: I think I was one of only like 3 people who got why it was funny and laughed in the theater when Juno burst out with "I bought another Sonic Youth record and it just sounded like noise!" when TSYG showed his true colors), but I think the reason that his portrayal was disturbing to me is that he - much more than the Jennifer Garner character - is like an older (though less wise) version of Juno. And if Juno's options are to become one of the two, the movie seemed to pretty clearly endorse the McMansion Garner over the Indie Bateman, both in the portrayal of Garner at the end of the movie and in the fact that Juno ultimately chooses a relationship with Bleeker (because god forbid she remain steadfast in her claim that she wasn't in love with him and yet had sex with him anyway).

Another problem I had with the movie is my usual problem that I have with all movies in which pregnancy is featured, which is the pregnancy test scene where the female character is not content with just one at home test, nor with two, but takes more and more tests "to be sure." Now, at least Juno only takes three, BUT. Here's a tip, Hollywood: at minimum, a pregnancy test costs like 8 bucks (and that's if you buy the Walgreen's brand, and who is going to trust such an important thing to a generic test? I'm sure some people must, but the few times I've taken a pregnancy test, I've not been willing to trust the off brand for my answer), and a typical pregnancy test costs around $14 to $18. Let's say you're willing to invest and to buy two, just to be sure. (Assuming you don't buy the one that has two tests in it.) I'm betting that after the second one you'd call some sort of clinic or doctor, yeah? Especially if you were "poor" like Juno (which, incidentally, I thought was a bit of a stretch). So, Hollywood, do me a favor. The next time you have a character get pregnant in a movie, don't do the multiple pregnancy test thing. It's about as lame as when Hollywood movies have that scene with women dancing around a kitchen table or something (like in Practical Magic), which just doesn't really happen very often and makes me irritated.

So yes, the movie left me troubled. But the soundtrack was sweet.


Lesboprof said...

Aw, I am so disappointed with your response to the movie. I disagree with almost everything you said, except the bit about the multiple pregnancy tests.

I found two sets of heterosexual role models--the young couple and Juno's father and his new wife. I think the whole movie focuses on the complicated nature of relationships and connections. It also calls our judgment into question, as we like Bateman's character throughout a lot of the movie, and we are concerned (at least) about Garner's.

But the father is pretty awesome, and the stepmother really has a great and thoughtful part. And we see Juno start to recognize something new in her parents, just as she recognizes something new in her feelings for Bleeker. Perhaps she will grow up to be like her father, or even her stepmother, or perhaps none of the above.

I am a steadfast supporter of abortion rights, but I think the movie is okay on abortion. I think that the movie presents the potential of abortion, but some of the emotional and practical challenges of obtaining one. And Juno's decision to give the baby away is not easy, which they portray with her reception at school and her emotions in the hospital.

And, as a person who wanted so badly to get pregnant when I was trying, I empathized with Garner's character's failure and her desire for children that pushed her to try to be perfect, control what she can, and made her seem always on edge. And I can even relate to her unwillingness to see the hesitance of her husband, so badly does she want this child.

I really liked this movie a lot.

Artistic Soul said...

I also have to disagree with your reading of the film. I found it utterly refreshing, and while you can certainly argue that it is heternormative (what romantic comedy isn't really? even the queer ones emphasize monogamy as the end goal for love), I thought the complicated portrayal of what several characters needed in order to find "love" - however they defined it - was sweet and thought provoking. They did deal with Juno's isolation from other kids when having the child, particularly the scene where she yells at Bleaker for not taking her to prom and when the teachers stared at her stomach. So while the consequences of having the baby may not have been as prominent, they were certainly more intelligently explored than other films such as Knocked Up (where abortion wasn't even considered). The only plot point I wasn't clear on here is how she managed to keep herself in school after the early reference to the school sending pregnant women away to "other" places.

And while I agree with you on the pregnancy test thing - the character IS 16. At 16, I probably would have bought three tests just to be sure, even if they were expensive. You'd be more likely to do that than make an appointment, especially if you're a minor in a state that would require consent for treatment. It is a terrible Hollywood plot device for women who are older (20s/30s romantic comedy fare), but in this circumstance, I thought it worked well.

Dr. Crazy said...

Lesboprof: I really liked the father and stepmother characters, too, and I do think that they offer better models than the Garner/Bateman pair, but I suppose I focused on Garner/Bateman because I saw Juno as seeing them as potential versions of herself, where I don't think that we necessarily respond to our parents in that way consciously. Toward the end I think that she does have a glimmer that perhaps they offer a potential other path, though, and so I probably should have said more (or anything) about them in my response. That said, as for the movie's nod toward abortion as an option, and what Juno subsequently faces in deciding to carry the pregnancy to term, I didn't think that it was adequately handled. I thought the parents' immediate acceptance of her choice was unrealistic at best, and I thought it was highly unlikely that the parents would have agreed not to tell Bleeker's parents about the pregnancy, and I felt like the way she immediately found adoptive parents just a bit too convenient. That said, it's a movie, and there's no reason why it has to be "realistic" in all areas.

Artistic Soul: Point taken about the movie doing a better job of exploring the consequences than Knocked Up, though for whatever reason I was more bothered by Juno than Knocked Up. It may be that the buzz raised my expectations too much? Or that I expected more because ultimately it's a more ambitious movie? Something? I don't know. But as for your thinking it's realistic that she did the 3 tests... hmm... but where would she get the money from? (or, come to think of it, the money for an abortion?) She doesn't work. The family is portrayed as being not terribly well off. And, at least in terms of Juno's character and in terms of the way her friend reacts, she's not shy about calling the abortion clinic once she's decided she is pregnant, and in terms of the movie there seems to be no issue with consent (or even with a 24-hour waiting period). I don't know. Again, I may being unfairly literal.

I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like the movie. I did. But I was bothered by it, and I've been pretty preoccupied with thinking about why. I think a big part of it has to do with my reaction to Jason Bateman's role in combination with Juno's role. Which isn't the whole movie by a long shot - but it's that part that's left me... pensive.

Brigindo said...

Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed the movie but was also left with a "hmmm" in my mind and most people just rave about it without analysis. I thought the movie did a decent job with abortion, showing it as an option but a difficult one. I think it glossed over the emotional consequences of adoption (although you did see her crying after delivery) but I may be especially sensitive to the issue having just finished Ann Fessler's "The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Childen for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V Wade" (great read). I agree with lesboprof on the Dad/Stepmom adding to the complexity of relationships but also felt the movie was a little harsh on the Bateman character - making him seem borderline pedophile (dancing w/ Juno) and than a cad for walking out (and smiling at the thought of a loft apartment while Garner is sitting there grief-stricken).

Shaun Huston said...

I can't say I read the film as presenting Juno as looking for adult role models. If anything, she seems overly self-possessed, especially for the first hour or so. However, like brigindo, I think the movie takes an overly harsh turn with Mark (Bateman). I don't think we know enough about this character to accept his deciding to leave his wife so he can move in with his (imaginary) pregnant, sixteen year old girlfriend. Juno's decision to let Vanessa (Garner) adopt on her own could be read as a moment of solidarity as much as her looking up to the older woman.

Like others commenting here, I enjoyed the film, but had mixed feelings about it. I ended up writing two pieces on it. One is also a random collection of reactions, but like you (Dr. Crazy, that is) I was puzzled by the ending. We end with her singing a duet with the love of her life, at sixteen!? The moment is charming, but in connection with the earlier scene with her father - find a person who loves you for you - it's hard not to read this moment as one implying some kind of life decision and not some episode in a teen romance.

My other piece is a response/deconstruction of one of the many anti-abortion commentaries in praise of the movie. To my surprise, I think that exercise raised my estimation of the film, even though, ironically, I was responding to someone who claims to have loved Juno.

Anastasia said...

I wasn't crazy about the ending in that I think I would have been more satisfied if she and bleeker had remained friends.

beyond that, I loved it. I think my view on it was colored by the fact that my best friend had a baby at 17 and placed it with an adoptive family--and no, she didn't have any trouble at all finding someone, people are clamoring for infants, esp. rich white people who would prefer white infants. like juno, my friend never really thought of the baby as hers. and like juno, my friend's parents accepted the pregnancy pretty readily.

I'd agree, though, that it wasn't especially realistic. Sure, I took 4 pregnancy tests this month but I have money! I'm not sure this would have been quite so easy for Juno although I didn't read her as *poor* exactly. people whose sisters take lessons (for whatever) and who don't have to work and who wear the sort of bohemian clothes she had on...I don't know. Just didn't occur to me that they weren't at least comfortable.

and like others here, I did think the adult relationships were interesting and complicated. I found myself identifying most with Garner. I didn't see bateman as a cad, though. It felt right for him to go. I almost wondered why they got married in the first place.

And then garner's character, she made a choice to become a single mother, to put together a family that was less than perfect because it is what she really wanted. I loved that moment. She let go of the veneer of perfection. And I felt like Juno's step mom was giving her blessing at the end, as a woman who realizes that relationships are messy and imperfect and life is messy and you do the best you can.

yeah, I really liked it.

Nik said...

I always want movies to consider abortion as more of an option but, in thinking about the idea, I wonder if abortion was the choice Juno had taken, if the movie would have been about regret and other dramatic extensions of abortion. Perhaps Hollywood, by the benign neglect of ignoring abortion, treats abortion as the nonevent it is and it's the having of the babies that is the real source of drama.

Dr. Crazy said...

I'm really enjoying the continued discussion everybody. I want to respond, but I need to think a bit more. So, in lieu of posting a comment that actually furthers the discussion, I will quote an email I just received from FL, who must have read the blog:

"So, should I see Juno or should I just re-rent For Keeps?"

Teehee. This made me giggle. Additionally, I did think of FL throughout Juno, as he rocked it out with the sweat band when he ran track lo those many years ago when he was my high school sweetheart. Thank GOD I never got knocked up or I'm certain neither one of us would have been as awesome as Juno and Bleeker, and my parents certainly would not have been so cool as were Juno's. Not at ALL.

Artistic Soul said...

Actually, I agree with you there. I thought Bateman's character was the most disturbing -- probably because I read him as more...sterotypical?...not really sure of the word I want here...in terms of this "crisis in white masculinity" that continues to play itself out through the emo/pop punk youth culture. There is a strong pressure on college educated white men to have it all figured out - and because it was obvious he was a "kept" man in a sense (Gardner's character clearly was the financial breadwinner in the house - especially if she was still able to adopt the baby on her own) which automatically meant that he was unhappy. The undercurrent to his character was in many ways a sly anti-feminist move. That's just my take though.

It could also just have been creepy that he looked like he was hitting on Juno the whole time -- Bateman doesn't come off as genuine as some other actors might have in the role, so perhaps it's just the creep factor.

kristen said...

Great commentary. I have a completely different read! However, I did think that Mark was one f'd up character! I blogged a bit about the movie at my blog as well...in a nutshell--

I don't think the movie glorified adoption more than abortion. I think the movie dealt with Juno's choice. Juno gets to make the choice. And you can't really be pro-choice and only choose abortion. I think the movie shows both the pain Juno went through with her choice and also the liberation it provided for her. She came out great in the end. We assume she'll go on to be a productive member of society. For futher proof, the people in the movie that were punished were the people who judged Juno (I'm thinking of the ultra sound tech that gets the tongue lashing). Juno was n ot the "failure" in the movie. That simple fact is incredibly progressive.

Finally, I must say that I think the way the movie dispelled traditional nuclear families was significant and meaningful. The fact that a SINGLE! MOTHER! was the one we were pulling for at the end is a big kick in the teeth to the nuclear "family values" right.

Just my two cents! I love reading all the different takes on the film! Such smart critics!

Rachel said...

This in all honestly is the issue with the pregnancy test being to many. When i thought i was pregnant i got so scared i took four of them. I didnt have the money for that many so i ethier borrowed the money or i stole it. I mean when you see it its like you dont want to believe it i took the ones with the plus sign and ones with the read outs. Its scary and you dont wanan believe but after 4 yeah you know its there when they all say the same thing.