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February 25, 2008 | by  | in Film |
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Juno

Ellen Page sure can pick a role.
Do you remember Hard Candy? With its manipulation of expected gender roles, and ass-kicking character design, Hard Candy was one hell of a movie. Well, Juno is as heartwarming as Hard Candy was disturbing.

Juno tells the story of a teenage mother, from the moment she discovers her pregnancy, to the delivery. It deals with all the issues a pregnant girl might expect to have to deal with in the modern age, and it deals with them exceptionally well.

Ellen Page’s performance is phenomenal, and well-deserving of the Academy Awards Best Actress nomination she received for the role. The confusion caused by her initial discovery, the uncertainty of how to deal with it, the repression of how she feels about her classmates’ reaction to her pregnancy, but most importantly the sheer terror of it all; all are sympathetically and realistically portrayed to the audience.

The way the relationships between the characters are developed is noteworthy. The tension between the young couple hoping to adopt, the immaturity and uncertainty (an ever-present theme in this movie) of the relationship between Juno and Bleeker, and the fine line that Juno’s father, Mac, walks surprisingly well between being protective of his little girl on the one hand and supportive on the other, are all fitting, and instantly accessible. Bleeker’s uncertainty as to how he should react, and how uncomfortable he is to ask, is touching. But of special mention is Juno’s relationship with her stepmother. It is easy to write a wicked stepmother, but it is much harder to write a stepmother who is likable, and cares deeply for her spouse’s children, but who has little in common with them, and whose relationship is therefore strained. It is refreshing to see this dynamism, which is a common occurrence in the real world, being reflected in cinema.

Teenage pregnancy is an issue which is discussed frequently in the mass media, and rarely in anything but a negative light. New Zealand’s teen pregnancy statistics (the third highest in the OECD) are something discussed as though it were a blight on our society. There are explicit references in the news media to the “problem” or even the “epidemic” of teenage pregnancy. Juno refuses to buy into this, but at the same time shies away from considering abortion a simple answer which solves everything. The great discomfort of the abortion clinic waiting room, and to a lesser extent the lone school-age protester outside, go a long way in both helping Juno decide what she wants to do, and helping the viewer make their own mind up.

What really makes this movie stand out is its realism. It refuses to match expectations of teenage pregnancy equating with doom and gloom for all involved, but it acknowledges its life-changing nature. Juno deals with it in a very mature way, even if she doesn’t do the same with other occurrences in her life – something which she herself readily acknowledges.

One particular scene is very important. When Juno receives her first ultrasound, the doctor accidentally lets slip her own feelings on the subject of teenage pregnancy. Juno’s stepmother’s response is simply hilarious. The fact is, not all teenage pregnancies are disasters. The presumption that a child of a teenage mother will be firstly unwanted, and secondly poorly cared for, is not one that it is fair to make. Yet it is one that many take as a starting point in their judgement, and not everyone considers anything else before leaping to conclusions.

Juno is a very special movie. It ends on a happy, feel-good note that urges the viewer to reconsider their feelings about the topic discussed. But the ending is not at all out of place, because this is a Happy Movie. Despite the fact that its characters go through the whole range of emotions, the seriousness of the subject matter, and the depth of both the characters and the relationships between them, this movie will brighten your day. See it.

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