With the release of Young Adult also directed by Jason Reitman, now would be a good time to look back to one of his earlier movies: Juno. This is one of the most perfect indie movie from the wonderful music featuring British musicians such as The Kinks to modern indie musicians such as Cat Power. It includes a really innovative approach to the storyline of teenage pregnancy but with many significant differences.
Autumn: the days are getting colder and we are introduced to Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) as a precocious teenager from Minnesota who is best friends with her cheerleader girlfriend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) and loses her virginity to her best friend Pauly Bleaker (Michael Cera). This has a fantastic introduction with Juno walking around her suburban surroundings but rotoscoped, giving the movie an original look in the opening minutes. We are then introduced to various people who inhabit her life including her no nonsense step-mother (Alison Janney) who is dog mad. We see the problems associated with teenage pregnancy from the emotional issues of abortion to the various other problems associated such as carrying on full term in a school environment.
The fact Juno is so precocious makes her a fascinating character and her narration, various changes in character as a result of the pregnancy and her no bullshit approach is very refreshing, particularly when she asks for the adoption to be ‘like Moses in a wicker basket’. This makes her character unusually clear in her aims which is rare from what I have heard regarding teenage pregnancy.
Winter: We meet three characters who are iconic actors from TV with Jennifer Garner (Alias) who plays the adoptive mother Vanessa Loring. We also have Rainn Wilson from the The Office making an appearance and the aforementioned Allison Janney from The West Wing who support two of the biggest break out stars in recent years; Ellen Page and Michael Cera. While having good character actors to make up the rest with J.K Simmons (who seems to be one of Reitman’s favourite actors ) and Jason Batemen who plays the husband of Vanessa and flakes out of the adoption at the last minute. One of the most interesting aspect about the adoptive parents is the small things such as how they dress. Vanessa dresses like a successful businesswoman while her husband dresses like a slacker, a bit like Juno’s choice of skater-ware, hoodies and has to have hiding places in the house where he can keep his musical equipment. He is far closer to the child than the adults in conversation and is far happier jamming with Juno than sorting the paperwork involved in the adoption. He lacks the same obsessive desire to be a parent which Vanessa constantly expresses and when Juno sees her in a mall playing with someone else’s child you see that she sees that this child can only go to one person despite all the troubles and difficulties involved.
The movie deals with the problems of ostrasiation in a smart way by just showing it through looks or an overhead conversation and first person shots of the great crowds of students making way for her. It is nicely paced using the changes in the seasons both to create pathetic fallacy (weather mimicking moods) and also as an easy progression on the state of the birth and to reinforce patterns. Bleaker is a runner and the runners passing her door is a framing device for new days of hopes and progress. Though there is an awareness that these are problems beyond her age, she deals with them through good humour.
Spring: What must be mentioned is that despite the serious subject matter of the movie it is actually a comedy with beautiful music. The director refers to it as a black comedy which is reinforced by his later work with George Clooney playing a man who fires people for a living in Up in the Air. It is funny in places but never side-splitting. It’s dark and deals with adult subjects. The sex is such a small part of the movie by neither eroticizing nor trivializing it. It is a most unconventional romantic comedy and that would be the only genre I could place it within unless I resurrected the Shakespearian term of a ‘problem movie’. It has a happy ending but it is unconventional as everything still feels far from perfect.
Summer: Both Page and Cera are well known faces and have been in a variety of blockbusters (generally to critical success) but both have maintained their indie roots. This movie was the first in which they both had large critical success and became noticed. It’s a movie that creates rhapsodic reviews and created a wave of indie success which at a push could include The Artist as a very indie film in conception but backed by the biggest names in Hollywood: the Weinstein Brothers. To conclude, this movie has been more than just a cute indie movie as it was very influential in its own right and a wonderful example of just how interesting a comedy can be.
Note: The use of seasons as paragraph titles is the first attempt in writing vaguely in the style of the movie as this is a central idea and follows the spirit of the hope and optimism in the spring and summer sections as in the movie. It is something I might try again in the future and as always comments are welcome.
Retrospective By Harry Riedl