Last month, I intended to write this whole post about entertainment that valued life and what not and then strep throat and the flu ripped through our house with reckless abandon and my biggest pro-life goal in those moments, was keeping my family alive.
I am a fan of Jason Reitman’s film Academy Award nominated (and winner for best screenplay) film Juno. I think it is uplifting without being cheesy and brutally honest without being demoralizing. I’ve come to realize, in the last few years, that in a lot of pro-life circles, I’m in the minority in this opinion. Particularly when it comes to using this film to educate young people on the pro-life options truly available to them should an unplanned pregnancy occur.
First off, I am told that Juno promotes teenage sexuality. I hate to let people know, but teenagers were having un-wed sex long before this movie came out. And it’s been promoted much more romantically (no pun intended) in many other places. If anything, I would argue that this film makes a powerful case against sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Juno and Paulie barely speak to one another after having sex just one time. They were clearly caught up in the moment and while it may not be outright regret, the awkwardness bothers the friends tremendously. And while Juno tries to down-play the actual sex, or “the sex” as she tells the receptionist on the phone at Planned Parenthood, she is clearly bothered by how things have changed between herself and her best friend. Listen up kids, sex changes everything. Everything.
Second, I have been told this movie not only encourages teens to have sex but gives them an easy out: find a rich couple to take your baby. WRONG!!! If anything, this film shows what I’ve heard adoptive parents refer to as the “divorce” or “painful separation” that occurs in an adoption in it’s most honest form. After Juno rejects having an abortion while sitting in the reception area of Planned Parenthood, she has to figure out what’s next. Having only told her best female friend, Leah, that she was pregnant, she shows she is mature and knows she is not ready to raise a baby and they set about finding prospective adoptive parents. Although they find a couple fairly easily and Juno’s dad and step-mom sign off on the deal (more on that in a minute), it’s not all wine and roses for Juno. Despite agreeing to a closed adoption with Mark and Vanessa, Juno develops relationships with them. Particularly with Mark. Her step-mother Bren cautions Juno that the relationship (which Juno views merely as a friendship born out of a mutual love for similar music) is borderline inappropriate and that Juno should not be inserting herself into the Loring’s lives. Juno is hurt by Bren’s assertion because as she views it, these people will be raising her child and she has become attached to them in a way. To complicate matters, when Juno comes over to the Loring’s home to show them an ultrasound of the baby, she finds out Vanessa is picking up extra shifts not only to take more time off when the baby comes, but to buy baby gear. When Juno says she thought the couple’s friends would give them those things at a baby shower, Mark and Vanessa reveal this isn’t their first rodeo. They’ve had at least one failed adoption prior which sends Juno reeling that they would even consider her changing her mind. And in the end, Bren’s advice that Juno’s involvement with the Lorings (particularly Mark) is inappropriate, turns out to be prophetic when he decides to leave Vanessa (an action he claims Juno inspired) which threatens to de-rail the adoption late in the pregnancy as Juno wanted a mother and father for her child.
Another thing I am told is that this movie is not good for young people as it doesn’t portray enough shame on the part of Juno and her family. Sigh. I don’t think I can ever win this argument as it is subjective, but here goes. Juno struggles to tell her dad, Mac, and step-mom, Bren about the pregnancy. She’s already decided to have the baby and give him or her up for adoption and approaches her parents with Leah as back-up. She struggles but gets it all out. Her parents are disappointed. The dialogue following her announcement says it all:
Mac: Did you see that coming?
Bren: Yeah…but I was hoping she was expelled or into hard drugs.
Mac: That was my first instinct too. Or a DWI…anything but this!
They are disappointed, sure but they also aren’t happy. They would rather their child have been kicked out of school, addicted to drugs or be in trouble with the law rather than pregnant. That said, they back Juno up. And Bren, in particular, decides it’s best to get on board and help their daughter get through this than wallow in what might have been. When Mac says he’s not ready to be a “pop-pop,” Bren replies, “You’re not going to be a pop-pop. Somebody else is going to find a precious blessing from Jesus in this garbage dump of a situation.” That appears to set things on the course of supportive parenting. Bren gets right on getting her to see an ob-gyn and on pre-natal vitamins. And Mac refuses to allow Juno to meet Mark and Vanessa alone. He goes to their home with her and has a great line at the introductions, “Thank you for having me and my irresponsible child over to your home.” Mac has a much more difficult time accepting the pregnancy and eventual adoption than Bren does, and the pregnancy does bring Juno and Bren much closer together. When Bren takes Juno for an ultrasound, she defends Juno and her choices at adoption or even if she changes her mind and decides to keep the baby to the judgmental ultra-sound technician. And she never leaves Juno’s side during and after the birth of the baby. I would be hard pressed to say that these are examples of anything other than supportive parents and not parents glorifying an unwanted situation.
An odd argument against the film I read recently is that the screenplay was written by Diablo Cody, a former exotic dancer. And her former occupation is reason enough not to see. All I can say to this is that God can and will work through everything and everyone. Yes, Ms Cody at one time, had a less than desirable occupation, however, she managed to write a story that’s had a powerful impact and has gone on to win awards despite having a message so contrary to what popular culture preaches.
Throughout the pregnancy, Juno has conflicting feelings about her child’s father, Paulie. Initially she thinks everything will go back to being the way it was. Her parents agree not to tell Paulie’s parents about the baby being his at Juno’s urging and Paulie seems to be ambivalent regarding the adoption. As the pregnancy progresses, their relationship becomes strained. When Juno finds out Paulie is asking a girl out to a dance, despite her not typically wanting to attend such an event, she becomes jealous and confused by her feelings and confronts Paulie. Finally, toward the pregnancy’s end, Juno and Paulie decide they want to start dating. But their relationship changes nothing in the status of the adoption. The situation regarding their relationship was executed very well. It’s something that teenagers don’t think about. Yes sex changes things and so does pregnancy. There is never a happily ever after guarantee which is why sex and pregnancy should never be used to hold onto a relationship.
The very painful decision Juno makes to allow Vanessa to adopt her child alone and the birth of the baby (Paulie chooses not to see the baby) reveal the very rawness of adoption. Juno sees the baby but he is almost immediately whisked away to Vanessa. Juno is comforted by Bren and Leah, her dad and Paulie. Each knows the pain and longing of letting go of the baby without it becoming overdramatic. This separation, this divorce, from the child’s birth family is shown in the tears and embraces of Juno’s family and Paulie. Vanessa chooses to pay tribute to it in her home where she has framed in her son’s nursery, the message Juno wrote to her on the back of a Jiffy Lube invoice after Mark revealed his plan to leave her, “Vanessa, if you’re in, I’m in. Juno.”
If nothing else I could see where this movie could certainly start a lot of powerful conversations between teens and young people and their parents. It is difficult subject matter, but I do believe when given the proper context by parents it can be a powerful learning tool. And not just the lesson that adoption is an option.
I also think Juno would not be under attack by the other side, if it weren’t such a powerful weapon in the arsenal. They finally, six years later, launched the counter attack with Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child. Robespierre was clever to not show her main character Donna, going through any discernment process in her decision to abort her child. Equally clever was the casting of Jenny Slate in the role of Donna. Slate was previously best know as the creator, author and voice of Marcel the Shell, a character who stars in a popular series of youtube videos and children’s books. And she concludes her film in a way similar to the way Juno ends, with the “parents” together, seemingly happy. Robespierre freely has admitted in interviews that she wanted to counter positive portrayals of women who choose to have their unplanned babies in Juno and Knocked Up (the Judd Apatow film in which a young professional gets pregnant after a one-night stand and has her baby despite her mother’s urging not to and it threatening her career). These movies are so threatening to the abortion industry and its supporters, that one of them had to make a movie to counter it. So, why wouldn’t we use a tool as influential as Juno to not only show the alternatives but to drive home the reality of pre-marital sex, teen sex and parenthood?