January 31, 2008


"JUNO" MOVIE REVIEW by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp
Five hearts out of a possible four. I can't say enough about this movie. The hype is well-deserved and even understated. I want to see 10,000 more movies like this. I can't stop replaying scenes from this perfect movie in my head. I can't stop describing these scenes to the underprivileged who have not seen this film.
Although everything about "Juno" is quirky right off the bat, and this non-precious quirkiness is sustained to the end, it's really the dialogue that makes the movie. Funny, honest, refreshing. In a broken, non-commital world, one blank-slate of a young woman learns through (and trusts) her own experience of life enough to figure out what's real. Juno (Ellen Page), a pregnant teen, often admits that she "doesn't know," even though she is mightily opinionated. "Juno" is like a phenomenological rediscovering of everything that is right, true and good. Juno is sixteen years old, middle-class, eccentric, and besides her parents' divorce (she lives with her father and stepmother), doesn't seem to have any major drama going in her life...until the pregnancy.
Although I read much about "Juno" before actually viewing it, I hesitated to call it a "pro-life" movie because it didn't seem that this was the particular intention of the screenwriter, Diablo Cody. However, I must now definitely call this a pro-life movie, and not only that, it has an unmistakable Catholic sensibility. Diablo--real name Brook Busey-Hunt--went to twelve years of Catholic school, and may not even realize it, but somewhere along the line ingested the best of the blood-and-guts-rock-and-roll Catholic ethos. In her capable hands, her version of that ethos has the possibility to reach more people and do more good than any book, sermon or pro-life campaign. "Juno" says: You can get on with your life after giving birth.
"Juno" is not just a pro-life movie because a decision is made to have a baby and give it up for adoption, it's pro-life because it's all about what comes before and after a pregnancy, about the loving "life-support" systems we need to surround ourselves with, no matter our path in life. It has much to say about the male/female relationship, marriage, and maturity. This movie is a fine, fine example of John Paul II's Theology of the Body at work (minus the one rather fruitful extra-marital act of sexual intercourse). Dare we hope that "Juno" is chronicling the youth-driven "turning of the tide" with regard to abortion, and, perhaps, even sex? In regard to adults' query: "Are you sexually active?" Juno asks, "Is it really something you can turn off?" This, too, is classic Theology of the Body, which teaches that we are always sexual beings. Everything we do is as either male or female.
If one pays attention to detail, the fact that this is a "pro-life" movie--in a hip, twenty-first century way--is unmistakable throughout. When Juno first plans on an abortion, it is obvious that she doesn't want her boyfriend (Michael Cera) to blithely go along, even though he does. What makes Juno change her mind? A lone young woman (her Asian classmate) witnessing outside the clinic: "All babies want to be borned!", who tells Juno that her baby has fingernails. (The fact that it had a heartbeat didn't cut it for Juno, it had to be something more original.) I could enumerate scene after scene where abortion admittedly involves a baby. Juno (with her usual sarcasm): "Well, we've been learning in health class that pregnancies often result in infants." It reminded me of "South Park's" ridicule of abortion and other scientific facts that become twisted in blatant intellectual dishonesty. Young people aren't stupid. I have a pro-life activist friend who says: "Abortion simply isn't funny" when it is made light of, made the butt of jokes. I agree. However, "Juno," makes abortion not funny, but ridiculous. A pro-life youth organization's slogan is "Abortion is mean." Maybe it's time for: "Abortion is ridiculous."
Another reviewer mentioned that Juno's parents are not the dolts that teenage parents are often portrayed as. In fact, Juno gets her caustic wit from her Dad. She has a solid relationship with her stepmother (Allison Janney), who is her polar opposite. Juno hides her delicate beauty, fierce independence, and womanly feelings for her boyfriend under a tomboyish exterior, which softens just enough at the end, due to some solicited advice from her Dad. "Juno" could also be a clue to parents how to react to a teen pregnancy.
The absolute clincher-scene is Juno's ultrasound. She is joined by her best friend (a non-stereotypical cheerleader) and stepmom. The three women joke, cry and rejoice, all to the dismay of the ultrasound technician who is disgusted by the whole thing. Here, in this antiseptic little room, five-hundred years of cold scientific rationalism (represented by a woman) comes to a head with the keepers of life and love (also represented by a woman). While light in tone, there is a longing for wholeness in this movie, a plea for a little human warmth and the milk of human kindness (no pun intended).
Jennifer Garner (the adoptive mother) does an impressive portrayal of an uptight, baby-hungry yuppie. Her relationship with worlds-apart Juno changes them both.
"Juno" reminds us that young love can be true love. How many of us know happily-married couples who were high school or even childhood sweethearts?
If you would like a primer on the latest sexual slang, and teenage slang, for that matter, this is your movie. "Juno" will make excellent time-capsule fodder while being timeless in its purview. Actress Ellen Page affirms that the script "reminded me of an aspect of what a lot of young women are like that absolutely never gets reflected in popular media."
"Juno" is the funny "Bella," and because of this, it soars. Oscar Wilde once said: "If you're going to tell someone the truth, you'd better make them laugh or they'll kill you." Of "Juno" we could say: "If you're going to show someone the truth, do it with a whole lot of heart, and they'll willingly come along for the ride."

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