A New Brand of Heroine: Juno in Review

Here at MNL Film Club, we review movies past and present. We’ll try to give you the coolest throwbacks since Doc Brown, on monthly thematic dosages. This February, we give you the Most Romantic Movies of the Past Decade. We took this matter seriously, and rest assured, the team argued gruellingly (nevertheless, no MNL Film Club writer was harmed in the writing of this piece) to present four of the most noteworthy romantic movies of the 2000s. This, of course, begged the question: what is romance? The delineation between this genre and those others more popularly consumed is blurry and undefined. We took the high road and put it simply as that which features love. More importantly, romance is an exploration of love; it captures love at its most picturesque moments, and it exposes the ugly undersides of its aftermaths. In Juno, modern romance takes on the form of an unconventional and comical romance of a young girl who finds love without looking for it.

Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Cinematography: 
Eric Steelberg
Cast: 
Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner

So much has been said already about Juno – praise for the humorous oddball characters and the smart screenplay, and on the other hand, criticism for the message it (may or may not have) conveyed. Juno was a sleeper hit; at first, it didn’t necessarily generate the buzz that it took for Ellen Page to be nominated for an Oscar. When I watched Juno for the nth time before finally putting my thoughts about it on paper, I tried to look for something new. And the film does not disappoint. It was the first time I actually laughed at the “cautionary whale” joke. Don’t judge me.

Sixteen-year-old Juno (Ellen Page) becomes pregnant after having sex with Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). With the realization that babies have fingernails, she decides to keep the baby and put it up for adoption. She finds a yuppie couple, Mark and Vanessa Loring to be the adoptive parents. The story revolves around the juxtaposition of the pregnancy of the spunky and unlikely heroine with the other stuff she has to deal with still: the unjustifiable scrutiny by her high school peers, her family and friends (or friend), and her unsorted feelings for Bleeker. All this makes for one of the best and most hilarious films of the 2000s, with an impeccably quirky and witty screenplay, attractive and engaging storytelling, and amusing characters who are unbelievably complex and unapologetic for their weirdness. The casting as well was spot on; with the pacing of Juno, it would be difficult to keep up if different actors played the roles.

The humor injected in every scene did not make a joke out of it all. It did not diminish the opportunities the film had to show a variety of other emotions in the relationships between the characters, and it did not sacrifice heart at the expense of making the whole thing more appealing to the viewers. I won’t get into the debate about whether it was feminist or not, but for the record, I think that having a character like Juno herself speaks much about strong female leads in film. It was like having an alternative heroine who isn’t a manic pixie dream girl in a setting that would normally call for one.

That being said, Juno featured a strong heroine in a stigmatized condition. She is smart and witty, and quite capable of handling the emotional haul she was in for, without showing that she was invincible to pain. The twists of fate did not hand her the best of situations, and it did not lend her a hand to help her get through it. And that’s part of what makes the film work, despite the unlikelihood of the combinations.

So why write about Juno and feature it as a romance film throwback? Juno began with no inkling of a love story. It ended with one, although that was not really the point of it all. It was a side story actually in the story of Juno’s journey from a teenager to a teenager who has learned the true sense of maturity and adulthood, and now has a boyfriend.

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It was the way Juno realized that she was in love with Paulie Bleeker, thanks to a conversation with her dad. As Juno came to terms with the impending divorce of the annoyingly incompatible couple, the guidance provided by her father made her realize that not everything is lost. If the advice given was right, there might be hope yet. And while life may not necessarily turn out to the best of our expectations, there is still hope in love when you’ve found the person who loves you for who you are, who is the coolest person you’ve met without even trying, and who will always think that the sun shines out of your ass.

The film treated the love story not as redemption for the pregnant teenager who decided against an abortion, but as something that Juno had to realize on her own. It was love with just the right amount of mushiness that the build up has reasonably led to. Stuffing the mailbox with tic-tacs was clever, but marching towards Bleeker to declare her love was totally boss.

It is possible that two people can stay happy together forever. In that much, we can hope.

– J

P.S. – A word on the soundtrack: Spot on choices for the tone of the film, but why doesn’t it feature a ’77 rock anthem?

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