This week, I began my marathon of Oscar's Best Picture nominees with Juno.
The first thing I noticed was a consistent aesthetic, a distinct “vibe” established by the animated open credits and folky music. Initially, the dialog is so aggressively snappy that it takes a second to wrap your head around it...and yet, it's somehow believable.
The movie deals with a very serious issue—teenage pregnancy. I found that very interesting, since teens are so often sexualized in the media. Such pregnancies don't happen as often as they used to, but they still happen. The heroine, Juno, decides to bring her baby to term and give it up for adoption. This is depicted, remarkably, without taking sides in the abortion debate. There is a confrontation outside of a clinic, but it is comically civil (or civilly comical). Seeing Juno walking around her high school pregnant drove home how much things have changed since I was in high school; at the same time, the events around her prom remind the audience that girls bear the burden, so to speak, of an unplanned pregnancy.
Juno is one of the warmest and wisest movie characters in recent years. It's refreshing to see her and her friends portrayed without resorting to stereotpes of teenagers. She's the Creative Kid (R, TM) in your school, not part of the mainstream; but she isn't bitter or cynical. She's totally smitten with her baby's father, even though he's kind of awkward and not conventionally handsome. She remembers their first sexual experience dreamily, where so many teen characters would be blasé. She keeps her baby when she realizes that it has fingernails; and she can't understand why she can't pal around alone with another woman's husband.
Most of the other characters are equally likable. Juno's stepmother, far from evil, ends up being a better mother than her biological mother. The wife of the perspective adoptive couple is speeding down the mommy track, and her husband seems to have a Peter Pan Complex; they both could be villanized, from certain points of view. In the end, though, they, too are three-dimensional characters. My only complaint on characterization might be that Juno and her father both take everything a little too well, almost as if they've done this before.
This is a movie about family relationships, specifically between couples and between parents and children. Juno is struggling to figure these out, and find her role within them. She sees that while we may learn things as we grow older, we always have such questions at different times in our lives. There are no messages or pat answers here, but there is a celebration of love. The resolution of the plot made me cry at a movie for the first time in a long time.
This film has heart, as trite as that sounds. The rest of the Oscar nominees are supposed to be quite bleak. They'll have to be really good for me to like them better than Juno.