PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.


Daynah Burnett

A movie about a 16-year-old girl's unplanned pregnancy, Juno manages to avoid any significant emotional depths, despite its plainly complex subject.


Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons
Distributor: Fox
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Fox Searchlight
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2008-02-01 (General release)
US Release Date: 2007-12-05 (Limited release)
I'm a planet.

-- Juno MacDuff (Ellen Page)

When we pulled up and I saw them shooting my movie, there were just tears streaming down my face.

-- Diablo Cody, Entertainment Weekly (November 2007)

Juno pulls off a questionable feat. A precious movie about a 16-year-old girl's unplanned pregnancy, it manages to avoid any significant emotional depths, despite its plainly complex subject. Instead, it works hard at maintaining its indie cred, by way of an eclectic soundtrack and detached coolness. The result: both the film and its titular character are defiantly hip and flawed.

The movie opens with an extreme long shot of Juno (Ellen Page) stationed in the far corner of the frame, visually opposed to a comfy living room furniture set currently laid out in her neighbor's front yard. Standing apart from these relics of a "normal" family life, she chugs on a gallon of Sunny Delight.

The scene sets up what we will quickly come to know about Juno: she's acerbic and bored. Unlike the non-conformist girls of teen movies past, however, she doesn't seem to have to try quite as hard, her rebel status denoted by boys' jeans, ponytail, and a lumbering gait. Also helpful, her gorgeous cheerleader best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) isn't an obviously flat-personality foil (see: Mena Suvari to Thora Birch in American Beauty), their compatibility making Juno seem all the more confident and smart.

With such a good head on her shoulders, it's little wonder that Juno takes the process of pregnancy testing in stride, and with virtually no self-consciousness. Breezing into the local convenience mart, she selects a "Teen Wave" pregnancy test from the shelf, her third consecutive, and heads to the store's restroom. As she emerges, positive test in hand, she shakes it in disbelief. To this, the clerk (Rainn Wilson) remarks, "That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. That's one doodle that can't be un-did, Homeskillet." They proceed to exchange dialogue so sharp and richly referential ("Face it, your eggo is preggo."), the scene is sapped of any possible gravitas. It's Juno's "Royale with Cheese" moment, introducing its crowning joy and largest liability: stylized dialogue. At this point, you're either along for the ride, or prepared to sulk in the backseat for the rest of the film.

After consulting Leah and her babydaddy Paulie (Michael Cera), Juno opts to "Nip it in the bud, before it gets worse." Even as she comes up with this solution in a rather cavalier manner, it's worth noting that no one in the film ever actually utters the word "abortion." In fact, it's never an option in this film. When Juno embarks to the clinic alone, she encounters a Korean classmate, Su-Chin (Valerie Tate), picketing in the parking lot, repeating an inarticulate pro-life protest, "All babies want to get borned!" Inside, the clinic appears a low-income house of horrors. Urged to divulge "Every score and every sore" to a pierced, gum-smacking receptionist, the out-of-place Juno leaves almost immediately. Indeed, this doodle can't be un-did.

Here, the idea seems to be that once Juno has a chance to "think" it through, she must allow her baby to be borned. Better still, she and Leah look through the PennySaver and find a picture perfect couple looking to adopt. Leah endorses them full-heartedly: "The only thing missing is your bastard." Thus it would seem adoption is "best." When Juno travels with her father (J.K. Simmons) to meet the couple and arrange the details, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman) do appear to have everything to offer the baby that Juno doesn't: a nice home, good schools, lots of time and attention. In this way, the film urges Juno to indulge Vanessa's lifelong dream of motherhood, for which she is so clearly suited. Just as predictably, the tension between Vanessa's intense desire for a baby and Juno's indifference towards her own initiates a competition between the two females, intensified by a not-so-latent sexual tension between Mark and Juno.

Churning out witty retorts like rapid-fire Internet chat, Juno contends with her life as a high school pariah and baby-incubator, complaining mostly about her size and never apparently questioning the many implications of her condition or decision. The small potential wrench in the film's slick works is her complicated relationship with Paulie. Her efforts to reconcile with him are, sadly, buried at the end of the second act. While Juno's snarky façade is somewhat diminished in Paulie's earnestness, suggesting how comfortable she feels with him, it's Michael Cera's performance that grounds Juno's most touching and revealing scenes. It's ironic that a film so charmed by its own leading lady fails to pay enough attention to the boy who charms her back.

The movie is surely enamored of its over-stylization, but writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman most often maneuver away from many looming clichés. It does this through a series of plot acrobatics that underline the movie's hip unconventionality, even as they also signal an actual investment in Juno's interests and happiness -- a welcome distinction from, say, Judd Apatow's version of the unexpected pregnancy comedy. And that in itself is a kind of unconventionality. This makes it all the more disappointing that a key point -- manifested in Juno's tearful breakdown and recuperation while driving on the side of a country road -- feels pat and familiar. For all its work to be so different, Juno occasionally is the same.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.