"Juno" deals with the issue of teenage pregnancy, but it does so with a sense of pluck and humor. This is not an "after-school special" look at the issue. It has laughter and tears, which all pregnancies have. And it has as its central character one that provides the film with heart and direction.
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is one of the strongest female characters to come along in a many a day. She is funny and not afraid to speak her mind. All of this from a 16-year-old who becomes pregnant the first time she has sex.
The father is a shy high school classmate named Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). He is reclusive and obsessive about his track team, which functions like a Greek chorus in the movie. Paulie's identity is tied to the team, but there is an aspect of him that Juno is drawn to.
Juno tells the audience that this story began with a chair—where the baby was conceived. From there, we watch Juno repeatedly use home pregnancy tests that reveal the bad news.
She tries in vain to shake the positive sign off the test, but a character tells her: "That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. That's one doodle that can't be undone."
Juno decides to abort the child, but at the clinic she encounters a classmate protesting abortion. The classmate tells Juno that the baby she is about to abort has fingernails. When Juno goes into the clinic, she sees the painted nails of the receptionist and that sparks a decision: She will not abort the baby, but give it up for adoption.
Juno finds Mark and Vanessa, a couple that can't have children, in the "Penny Saver" newspaper. Juno and her father (J.K. Simmons) go to meet them, and upon seeing that Mark is a fellow guitarist, Juno decides she will give the baby to them.
From there, the story begins to spin in different directions. Things aren't all they seem with Mark and Vanessa, and Juno is getting stares and "stink eye" from classmates at school. Paulie supports her in the only way he can: quietly. All the while, Juno stands on her two feet and declares her opinion of people and the world in general.
Ellen Page is perfectly cast as Juno. Reminding me of a young Katherine Hepburn and how she would play this role, she projects confidence, even when there is self-doubt. Her biting words endear her to the audience, and you find yourself loving her for her spunk and determination.
Paulie is introverted, but strong enough to hold his own with Juno. These opposites attract, and with quiet grace, Cera's Paulie gives Juno not merely a foil, but a true lover and friend.
Diablo Cody's script gives us youthful patter and characters that are real, not caricatures. This is a feminist movie, but there is no hate for men here. The men are complicated and well drawn. Juno's father supports her and does not preach to her. Mark is a deeper than we see on the surface.
"Juno" eschews simple answers and also tells us doing the right thing is hard. Jesus, too, tells us it's hard to walk the narrow path of righteousness. Though not righteous in the sense of spirituality, Juno is a character that fights hard to do what she sees is right and will not depart from it, no matter the obstacles.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast: Juno: Ellen Page; Paulie: Michael Cera; Mac MacGuff: J. K. Simmons; Bren MacGuff: Allison Janney; Mark Loring: Jason Bateman; Vanessa Loring: Jennifer Garner.
The movie's official Web site is here.