Saturday, March 22, 2008

Two Point Nine Four Cheers for Juno! Hip, Hip...


Ultrasound imaging scene from Juno.

Do you remember the scene in that Die Hard film where Bruce Willis' John McClane is dodging a hail of bullets? ... you know, that scene in the film where a crack team of highly trained assassins, expert marksmen to a man, somehow cannot kill him despite ninety minutes of constant effort? Or to put it another way, have you ever seen any of the Die Hard films? If you have, do you remember thinking that in real life McClane would have been, like, totally dead two reels back but you don't care because it's an action film... and it's more fun that way? Well Juno is just like that... only, of course, totally different.

Juno is the story of an attractive but socially awkward sixteen year old girl who makes an ill-advised decision and winds up pregnant. She initially considers getting an abortion but decides to have the baby and put it up for adoption. Her parents and her quirky friends rally round to support her, albeit in odd idiosyncratic ways, and the prospective adoptive parents that she finds via an add in the Penny Pincher seem to be perfect. Each of these links in her chain of support is tested but in the end they hold and she comes through fine. I don't think I have said anything here that can't be derived from any of the trailers I've seen so I don't think I have spoiled anything.

The film follows the formula for almost all teenage comedies: the protagonist is not particularly popular in school because of the too-cool-for-school problem. [... Oh, did I say almost all teenage comedies? Sorry, my mistake. I exaggerated. I should have said all teenage comedies.] When a big part of your target audience consists of high schoolers, all of whom are all socially insecure -- even the popular ones -- the best, the easiest, and almost the only, way to get them to identify with your hero is to make that hero a misunderstood outsider with a few quirky high-quality friends.

Anyway, Juno, our hero [I'll get back to that word later] finds her school social life very little changed because of her pregnancy. There are a pair of very funny point-of-view sequences in the film showing her making her way through the crowded halls of the school. In the first sequence, early in the film, most of the other students seem bigger than she is and she must shove her way through an indifferent mass of book-bags and elbows to get to class. In the second scene the mass of students in the hall parts before her pregnant belly like the waters of the Red Sea parting for Moses. But those two scenes notwithstanding, before she gets pregnant she is an outsider with a small cadre of very-loyal friends, and after she gets pregnant, exactly the same.

In describing Juno as the "hero" of the film, not just the protagonist, or even just the main character, I am being quite specific. Juno is the hero of the film in exactly the same way the John McClane is the hero of the Die Hard films. She is brave, sensible, honorable, wise beyond her years and, except for one or two small mistakes she does everything right. She gets all the big stuff right. No one dies. And, like Johm McClane she dodges a lot of bullets along the way -- things that might not work out so well for real-life girls in similar situations. In addition to all of her undeniable virtues, Juno is lucky as hell. This isn't a complaint, exactly. All the Die Hard films are great and Juno is a fine little movie. It's just something to bear in mind.

It's been fun to watch the contortions of the actors, the film makers and the production company -- all trying to deny that Juno is a pro-life film, which would be anathema to the very-liberal Hollywood film industry. I must admit that their arguments elude me a bit -- something about Juno being the story of one individual who chose not to terminate her pregnancy, as if Silence of the Lambs were not a monster movie because Hanibal Lecter is only one individual who chose to kill and eat people he didn't like... but whatever. In the end they were allowed to get away with it because Juno was a small-budget independent film and their screen-writer was a retired exotic dancer and not likely to be some sort of repressed religious zealot. I hope I can be forgiven for suspecting that the "our screenwriter is a stripper" defense wouldn't have saved them if the film had been made by, say, Sony Pictures.