Shortly after watching Juno, I turned on the television just in time to catch the made-for-TV movie Sixteen and Pregnant. For those of you who don’t have mothers addicted to Lifetime, here’s the rundown: girl gets pregnant, wants to give the baby up, flakes at the last minute and convinces her mother to let her keep the baby.
Not an incredibly original plot, and if you look at the bare bones set-up of Juno – sixteen-year-old girl gets knocked up – you might think you’re in for a similar ride. But there’s something different about Juno: Juno herself. The main character, played to crass perfection by Ellen Page, is not your average pregnant teen. She conceives on a piece of furniture from the 70s, takes her pregnancy test in a convenience store bathroom, and talks like a cross between a sailor and one of those pop-culture comedians from VH1’s I Love the 80s (“Thundercats are go!” she announces when her water breaks).
It’s the quirky details that make all the characters: the best friend’s obsession with the chubby and bearded high school teacher she calls Keith, the boyfriend’s deodorized inner thighs and penchant for orange Tic Tacs, and the grammatically challenged abortion clinic protestor’s “No Babies Like Murdering” picket sign. Details make the characters real.
And details help us see beneath the surface. ‘Cause this isn’t really a movie about teenage pregnancy. It’s not a cautionary tale (though Juno does refer to herself as the “cautionary whale”). At the risk of sounding cliché, I’d call it a coming-of-age story. Because for every smart-ass, wise-beyond-her-years remark Juno makes, we get a visual reminder that she is, after all, just a kid. She calls the abortion clinic on her hamburger phone, she wears a Slinky t-shirt over her third trimester belly, the words “fun for a girl or a boy” stretched across it, and her idea of an apology is a mailbox full of Tic Tacs.
The story is less about the pregnancy and more about how she deals with it and a number of other thing that are, as Juno puts it, “way above her maturity level.” We see her at her bluntest, like her reaction to the suggestion of an open adoption: “Can’t we just kick this old school?” and at her most sincere, when she encourages the adoptive mother, Vanessa, to talk to her stomach in the middle of the mall. From every crazy obstacle thrown her way she learns an important, if harsh, lesson, but she’s never sappy, she never lets us down. She’s learned some things, she’s a little more well-adjusted, but Juno is still Juno.