Juno is the story of how the 16-year-old title character and her best friend, Paulie Bleeker, start dating. First they’re friends. Then they have a baby. Then they decide to go out.
The journey, which is primarily Juno’s, takes her from a convenience store bathroom stall, where she takes her pregnancy test, through nine months of ups and downs. Telling her other best friend, Leah, about her pregnancy. Telling her parents. Weathering strange side effects like “heartburn radiating to [her] knees.” Ultrasounds. Growing out of her clothes. Not getting asked to prom.
After a brief stop at an abortion clinic—which Juno decides is not for her—she sets about finding adoptive parents for her baby. She chooses Mark and Vanessa Loring, a yuppie couple with a huge house in the suburbs. Vanessa is a high-strung career woman. Mark is an aspiring musician. They’ve got their own set of issues.
Shouldering the quirky mix of utter cluelessness and the premature maturity that teenage pregnancy brings, Juno keeps Mark and Vanessa in the loop about doctor appointments and the baby’s health. And that leads to a deepening, sometimes awkward, relationship between this young mom and her baby’s future parents.
Juno’s initial plan in response to finding out she’s pregnant is to “nip it in the bud.” “I hear that pregnancy can often lead to an infant,” she tells Paulie, and goes on to let him know that she’ll put an end to it. But when she arrives at the abortion clinic, which is meant to represent a Planned Parenthood-type operation, she can’t go through with it. Her decision is impulsive, rather than well-reasoned; nonetheless, her story ends up supporting the choices of both life and adoption. One of the strongest contributing elements of that message is the ultrasound footage that clearly shows a baby to be growing inside Juno.
Juno’s father and stepmother respond pretty well to her announcement that she’s pregnant. At first, they joke to each other that they’d rather she’d told them that she was expelled from school or on hard drugs, but they both move quickly into roles of support and responsibility, going with her to visit the Lorings, being present for her ultrasound and providing emotional support.
Juno’s growing relationship with her father is particularly touching, as represented by a scene in which he gives her advice on finding lasting love. Somewhat peevishly, but still wisely, Juno’s stepmom tries to teach her daughter the value of hedges when it comes to single girls’ friendships with married men.
Dismayed by the number of people she knows who are in broken relationships or being hurt by them, Juno rages against divorce.
Juno’s response to the positive pregnancy test (actually, it’s the third positive she’s gotten in one day) is to say, “That little pink plus sign is so unholy.” She has a sticker in her school locker that shows a cross inside a circle with a slash across it. She says that her name came from her dad’s temporary obsession with Greek mythology in general and Zeus’ wife Juno in particular.
Trying to convince Juno not to abort, a teenage protester at the clinic tells her, “God appreciates your miracle.” Speaking of Juno’s decision to give the baby up for adoption, her stepmom says, “Someone else is going to find a precious blessing from Jesus in this garbage dump of a situation.” Her tone is not necessarily mocking, but neither does it come off as completely sincere.
Explaining that she doesn’t want an open adoption, Juno jokingly compares her baby’s adoption to that of Moses in Egypt and asks, “Can’t we just, like, kick this old school?” Mark responds, “That would be kickin’ it Old Testament.”
During Paulie and Juno’s sexual encounter, audiences see his bare legs and chest as he sits in a chair, then sees her panties drop to the floor as she moves toward him. (She is still wearing her T-shirt.) Their faces—and particularly his expressions—are shown as she sits atop him. The scene is very brief, but is repeated a couple of times later in the film. Juno tells Leah that having sex with Paulie was “premeditated,” but denies that she’s in love with him, saying instead that “it’s complicated.”
Far more prevalent than sexual scenes is Juno‘s sexual dialogue. Mostly, it’s teenage slang for sex, genitalia and all things pregnancy-related—and we’re talking dozens and dozens of phrases here.
Less disturbing, and understandably present in a movie about having a baby, is medical dialogue about pregnancy and the female anatomy. These conversations are fairly rare and mild.
A health teacher is shown demonstrating to students how to put a condom on a banana. A comment is made about a student who is “into teachers.” A visual reference implies masturbation. Juno talks about liking to watch runners “bounce” inside their shorts—while the camera zooms in and slows things down so moviegoers can see what she means. In her search for adoptive parents, Juno briefly entertains the idea of giving her baby to “a couple of lesbos.” She sits on the toilet taking a pregnancy test. (The brand of the test she’s taking is “Teen Wave.”) Actor Rainn Wilson’s memorable line from the movie trailer comes next, in response to Juno shaking the positive test: “That ain’t no Etch A Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undid, homeskillet.”
Juno briefly entertains the idea of hanging herself. But her “suicide attempt” is aided only by a licorice rope, so it’s pretty clear that it’s not serious. When she goes to tell her dad and stepmom about her pregnancy, she prefaces the announcement with, “It would be freakin’ sweet if no one hit me.” Their gracious (if somewhat stunned) reaction quickly shows that her disclaimer was unnecessary.
After Juno meets the Lorings, she and Mark bond over a common love of music and horror films. One gory scene they watch shows a woman being impaled by a thick post.
The f-word pops up once, and the s-word nearly a dozen times. As noted, euphemisms and slang for sex and sex organs fly freely. There’s also frank discussion of the strange effects that pregnancy has on the body and bodily functions. In addition, God’s name is misused a handful of times and Jesus’ once. Another dozen milder profanities and an obscene gesture round out the parade.
Juno jokes to Mark and Vanessa, “I drink tons of booze, so you might end up with one of those scary neuter babies with no junk [genitals].” She also teasingly offers to sell some of her Adderall (medication for ADHD) to a classmate. Vanessa drinks wine to relax in the midst of a difficult situation.
Juno sometimes shows disrespect for her parents. An abortion protester—though her words help Juno decide not to abort—is portrayed as ignorant and inarticulate.
Mark and Vanessa represent the damage our culture has done to healthy identification with male and female roles. Vanessa is driven and controlling to the point of being neurotic. Mark is aimless and lacks ambition. He’s stuck in adolescence, not ready to be a father. And he lives in their house as if he’s a guest on Vanessa’s turf. [Spoiler Warning] What’s worse, the filmmakers leave them in exactly the state they started in. Neither of them grows up—or learns to love and serve the other. Before the baby is born, Mark and Vanessa divorce because he “has some things he still wants to do.” Basically, he doesn’t want to be tied down by a family. Juno decides that Vanessa is still the best parenting option for the baby, despite the woman’s emotional unhealthiness.
As Juno, Ellen Page is completely adorable. And wow, can the girl talk! She leads the cast through 92 minutes of rapid-fire repartee. (Think Gilmore Girls on prenatal vitamins.) Audiences have to stay on their toes to keep up, and even then, if they’re unfamiliar with what the film’s screenwriter Diablo Cody calls “teen speak,” they’re still likely to get left behind.
Speaking of teens, Juno is—if nothing else—a telling inside perspective on the new teenage sexuality (or at least the world’s version of it). All the old rules are out the window. Sex is just as likely to happen between best friends (or even near-strangers) as it is between those who are seriously dating. And having sex isn’t necessarily a precursor to the deepening of commitment. It’s just one of many complications to be factored in as teens are defining their relationships. Pregnancy, likewise, doesn’t carry the social stigma it used to. Which is not to say that Juno makes it out to be a breeze. It’s clear that the heroine is in over her head at times—but the film is über-careful not to judge any of the moral decisions made by any of its characters.
This deliberate moral relativism is also the reason why the film comes off as mildly—almost accidentally—pro-life and pro-adoption, rather than decisively so.
As a snapshot of adolescent culture—complete with crude language—Juno offers a conversation-inspiring perspective to adults who care for teens. Is this really the way things are now? Can anything be done about it? Those questions aren’t exactly posed in the film, but they’re sure to arise in the minds of some viewers afterwards.
For teens themselves, though, who are already swimming in the culture, Juno will only reinforce the complete lack of a moral compass.