Menstuff® has reviewed the movie Juno.
Teaching Against the Cultural
In Independent Review
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Teaching Against the Cultural Tide
I hate to release my inner fuddy-duddy this early in the year. So I'll blame this rant on having spent the last afternoon of 2007 in a movie theater with a bag of popcorn and a row of tweens.
I went to see Juno, the indie comedy about a hip and sarcastic 16-year-old who gets pregnant after what she calls "premeditated sex." In a rush of wit and grit, she decides not to have an abortion and picks a couple to adopt the baby. The story waddles inevitably to a happy ending and a slew of reviews praising the film for skewering the pieties of both sides of the family-values debate.
I enjoyed this the way you enjoy the bubbly on New Year's Eve that leaves you with a hangover the next morning. I had the sense of being co-opted into tacit approval of a goofy, romantic story only slightly less plausible than the actual transformation of its author, Diablo Cody, from stripper to screenwriter.
Please allow me a fuddy-duddy disclaimer. I am aware that reel life is not real life. Zoey 101 is not, alas, Jamie Lynn Spears. And Juno isn't meant to be a documentary.
But we are in the midst of an entire wave of movies about unexpectedly pregnant women - from Knocked Up to Waitress to Bella - all deciding to have their babies and all wrapped up in nice, neat bows.
In Knocked Up, pregnancy from a one-night drunken stand transforms a slacker babydaddy into a grown-up. In Waitress, pregnancy empowers a woman to escape from Husband Wrong to Mr. Right. And in Bella, it's the belly that leads her into the heart of a warm Latino family.
Here is a cinematic world without complication. Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that's never chosen. In Knocked Up it was referred to as "shmashmortion." In Juno the abortion clinic looks like a punk-rock tattoo parlor.
I am supposed to go with the flow and not point a scolding finger at cultural propaganda. But fuddy-duddy be damned. Sitting behind those tweens - girls somewhere between preschool and pubescence - I wondered what was being absorbed through their PG-13 pores.
Need I remind you of the news that teenage pregnancy rates have gone up for the first time since 1991? It's expected that 750,000 teenage girls will get pregnant this year. With, by the way, some help from boys. We've spent about $1 billion on the taxpayer scam known as abstinence-only education. And Jamie Lynn Spears announced her pregnancy, saying, "I was in complete and total shock and so was he."
Whatever the cost to actual teenage mothers, it isn't paid by their stars. The only one paying a price for Spears' pregnancy is OK! magazine, which reportedly put up $1 million for her pronouncement. (I'm OK! You're OK! Even if you're 16 and pregnant.)
I don't want to return to those wonderful yesteryears when Dan Quayle took on Murphy Brown. But we're navigating some pretty tricky cultural waters here.
On the one hand, liberals who want teens to have access to contraception and abortion don't want to criticize single mothers. On the other hand, conservatives who want teens to be abstinent until marriage applaud girls who don't have abortions.
So we have Mike Huckabee saying that Spears made the "right decision" and Wendy Wright of the Concerned Women for America praising movies that show women rejecting abortion. We have liberals who feel like fuddy-duddies darkening the rosy scenario of the motherhood fantasy movies.
There's an unstated compromise that historian Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College sees being acted out by the culture: "Social conservatives are backing off on the condemnation of single mothers. Social liberals are backing off on the idea that it's possible to have an abortion and not be ruined by it." This is best expressed by Hollywood, which wants to be all things to all audiences.
Is it still OK to ask whether this cultural 'compromise' ends up compromising the future of those kids in my theater?
When Spears told the world she was pregnant, it was described repeatedly, infuriatingly, as a "teachable moment." It appears that parents are required to create an alternative PowerPoint presentation. Against the endless loop of hip and comic stories, parents are expected to write the crawl - the stuff about relationships, about birth control, about becoming an adult before you become a parent. We're supposed to write the real life postscript to Hollywood's happily ever after.
Once again, adults are being called to teach against the cultural tide. Think of it as a casting call for designated fuddy-duddies.
Ellen Goodman for The Washington Post Writers Group comments on a
new wave of films depicting unexpected pregnancies: "We are in the
midst of an entire wave of movies about unexpectedly pregnant women -
from "Knocked Up" to "Waitress" to "Bella" - all deciding to have
their babies and all wrapped up in nice, neat bows."
Source: Ellen Goodman, www.truthout.org/issues_06/010308WA.shtml
SEX/NUDITY 6 - We see a teenage girl from the knees down, from behind, and her panties fall down around her ankles; we also see a teenage boy seated across the room and he is nude (his bare legs, abdomen and chest are visible), she walks across the room to him, sits on his lap, they kiss and they each confess to having wanted each other for some time (the scene ends but sex is implied).
A young woman offers a teenage girl a scented condom and tells her that her boyfriend uses them and that they make his genitals smell like pie. During a high school sex education class, a teacher places a condom on a banana.
A teenage boy and a teenage girl kiss. A teenage boy climbs into a hospital bed with a teenage girl and they hold each other.
A pregnant teenage girl and a teenage boy talk about what they should do about the pregnancy. Two teenage girls talk about one of them having planned to have sex with a teenage boy and that she is now pregnant. Several people make reference to teenagers being "sexually active" in several scenes. A teenage girl talks about a teenage boy being "great" sexually. A young woman asks a teenage girl if she is showing any signs of pregnancy, such as changing nipple color, etc.
We see a teenage girl's very pregnant bare abdomen and a woman caresses it and talks to it while they stand in a busy shopping mall. In a woman's clinic, a young woman asks a teenage girl to fill out a form with "every sore and every score." A teenage girl takes a pregnancy test and it is positive. Two teenage boys talk about a teenage girl being pregnant.
A man and a teenage girl slow dance together (nothing sexual is implied) and he talks about dancing at his senior prom with a girl who let him "put his hands all over her butt." A teenage girl spends time alone with a man and her mother tells her that that is inappropriate and that there are boundaries that she should not cross.
People stare and point at a teenage girl who is pregnant. A teenage boy holds a pair of a teenage girl's underwear in his hand while looking at her picture in a high school yearbook. A man teases a teenage girl about being pregnant.
A young man is shown in running shorts in several scenes (bare legs to the thigh).
VIOLENCE/GORE 3 - A teenage girl screams and moans during labor and delivery and we see the baby held by a nurse (a bit of goo and blood are shown).
A teenage girl ties a licorice noose, throws one end over a tree limb and pretends to hang herself (she pulls it down and eats the licorice).
A teenage girl protests abortion outside a women's clinic and calls out to a teenage girl who's going inside.
A teenage boy and a teenage girl argue. A teenage girl yells at a man. A teenage girl talks about wanting to punch someone in the genitals. A teenage girl talks about ripping off all her clothes and jumping into a shopping mall fountain.
We see a fetus on a sonogram screen and a teenage girl makes a remark about the size of the baby's head.
A teenage girl vomits into an urn. A woman asks a teenage girl if she vomited into a decorative urn.
PROFANITY 5 - 1 F-word, 1 obscene hand gesture, 22 sexual references, 9 scatological terms, 12 anatomical terms, 9 mild obscenities, name-calling (jock, jerk, stupid, nerds, squares, stink eye), 3 religious exclamations. [profanity glossary]
SUBSTANCE USE - A woman drinks wine. A teenage girl carries an unlit pipe in her mouth in a few scenes. A teenage girl talks about having been on prescription medication for behavioral issues.
DISCUSSION TOPICS - Teenage pregnancy, teenage sex, abortion, adoption, abandonment, parenthood, being different, supportive parents, dreams, goals, sacrifices, nesting, selflessness, marriage, broken families, friendship, relationships, divorce, disappointment, growing up, collaborative divorce, losing faith in humanity, love, sadism.
MESSAGE - Love is hard work. Parents seem to assume that
teenagers are not sexually active, when in reality they are.
In Independent Review
And yet, who is the biggest dick in the entire movie? Mark has an awesome music and video collection. He's mature enough to hold down a good job that lands him a ton of money, but when push comes to shove, he'd rather rock out in his loft than raise a kid. Perhaps this is an unfair treatment of Mark. Perhaps he and Vanessa rushed into marriage, perhaps he's made plenty of sacrifices for her whereas she has made few for him. But the script doesn't give any depth or background to these characters. Instead, it just makes Vanessa one-dimensionally shrewish and "uncool" whenever she's with Mark.
Mark is everything that Juno wanted in a father for her child, he's that graphic designer with the awesome record collection. But he isn't willing to give up his possessions to become a father. He's the male version of what Juno might be in 20 years.
The film's aesthetic philosophy fails in the same way. Pointless references to Thundercats, name dropping cool bands and McSweeneys, and dialogue like "honest to blog" and "that's one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet" sounds trite, unrealistic, and painfully manufactured. It's a way for Diablo Cody to a) lazily inject personality into her characters and b) show off. The film's most effective moments are its simplest: Juno's father expressing disappointment at her pregnancy, Bleeker wondering why Juno is angry at him, Vanessa's displeasure at Mark. Even moments without dialogue are moving: Vanessa touching Juno's belly, and the duet at the end between Juno and Bleeker. Juno is a very good film when it focuses on what is real. When Vanessa asks Juno's stepmother how she looks with the new baby, the reply is that she looks like how every new mother looks, "scared ****less." Vanessa is concerned about looking maternal when it's actually best to be without pretense. And yet Juno nonetheless tries too hard to dress itself in quirky trappings. It's a film that hasn't learned its own lessons.