Thursday, January 03, 2008

'Juno'-- A 21rst Century 60s Film

This afternoon, for an hour and thirty six minutes, I was beguiled by a little 'indie' film starring Ellen Page, with co-stars such as Allison Janney and Jennifer Garner and especially J.K. Simmons who is fantastic as Juno's Dad. The basic premise of the movie is simple-- sixteen year old girl gets knocked up by boyfriend. She then must decide what to do, and decides to have the baby, but give it up for adoption. The couple she decides to bequeath the child to, proves to be in the process of uncoupling, but Jennifer Gardner gets the baby prize anyway. Meanwhile her on again off again relationship with the child's real father blossoms into something like love.

The movie has a light and sweet tone, and it depicts teenage life in high school today (somewhere near St. Cloud Minn.) as not much different than I remember it from the 60s, except with worse music. Kids sit around listening to music, and play guitars together. I wish I still had time to do more of that. But when your musical idols are the Sex Pistols and Sonic Youth as opposed to say the Beatles, the Who, or Crosby, Stills and Nash you are musically deprived to say the least.

The same grungy apparel is still in vogue, the same dorky behavior is still critiqued, and while the 'in' or 'cool' lingo has changed ('bro' has been replaced by the omnipresent 'dude') a bit, there is still the same hormonal problems caused for teenagers 'in lust' where if you place the hormones in one hand and good intentions in the other-- it is wise to put one's money on the hormones, especially with the latest brain studies which show that the faculty of moral discernment is 'like for sure' the last part of the frontal lobe to develop in a teen's brain.

The issue this movie raises is not whether teen sex and teen pregnancy is a good or bad thing. The obvious difficulties of being pregnant as a teen age girl are not sugar coated here. The issue is-- what does one do, once such an unintended outcome happens? How should the girl, and her parents, and the boy friend, and their friends react? Juno, whilst initially planning on an abortion, thankfully can't go through with it when she sees one of her high school buddies protesting abortions outside the clinic. But having made that choice, there are still more difficult ones to make, and to her credit, Juno takes initiative and even finds what seems to be the perfect couple to give this child up to by way of adoption. The matter becomes more complicated when the father to be, gets cold feet about the whole deal.

Personally, I found the behavior of the parents, nicely played by Janney as the step mom and Simmons as the dad, not only believable but helpful. The girl's behavior is not condoned, but a loving way of dealing with both Juno and her child is carved out. There are poignant moments in the film where Juno gets upset when the adoptive parents are about to break up, as she wants better for her child to be or where Juno has a heart to heart with her Dad and asks him the eternal question-- 'is true love that lasts forever, really possible? I need to know it is possible.' So does everyone, and thankfully the answer is yes-- it is, by the grace of God possible. This film is likely to win various awards, especially in the case of Ellen Page's revelatory and quite convincing performance. But whether it wins awards or not, it will certainly win some hearts, without condoning promiscuous behavior. I would hope that if what happened to Juno happened to one of my children or grandchildren, I would have enough wisdom and guts to respond as well as Juno's parents are depicted as doing. This is not in the end a film about the need for more tolerance of immoral behavior. It is a film about what love should do, after such behavior occurs.


cpapashley said...

Such a hard issue this one. Have a number of friends in the past six months whose teenage children have ended up in a similar circumstance. While two of the parents realised that this was a choice made by their children, and while they desired something else for them, they have been able to love and support their children through the process, with both deciding to have and keep the children despite the obvious future challenges ahead. Both friends now hold grandchildren in their hands, and the joy of them is obvious, despite the difficulties their children will face with financial challenges etc.

One that has only found out recently, has dived into depression, feeling the shame and living in the shame of the circumstances. "how could my child do this to me...". Some kind words from my wife pointed out that this is sadly a truth in society that sexual activity between teens can end up in pregnancy, that right now what was needed was her love and support. Also my dear wife pointed out the length of the childrens relationship of some five years. Longer than many marriages. While the hope is for everything to be perfect, the reality of humanity is far from it. The simple choice of grace and love and support does not condone the action, the time for words and communicating the consequences of actions are before and not after.

I am just ever so glad God extended infinite grace to me, despite the way I continually manage to fall short of what his standard demands.

Luke Britt said...

Good review. I saw this movie with my wife, who is 6 months pregnant with our second son. It was difficult for her at times, but we felt the film was uplifting and would recommended to most of our friends. It was crass at times, but I guess I should expect such from teenagers.

I personally loved the music and thought the duet of Ellen Page and Michael Cera was terrific and summed up the film's romantic thrust and overall believability, although I would agree that your choice in 60s music is far better.

BTW, I'm about to begin your Mark commentary. I'm doing some research before I write a devotional book on Mark's gospel. Any other commentaries you'd recommend?

Ben Witherington said...

Sure Craig Evans on Mark

Christian buzz said...

i still haven't seen this movie yet, but i plan on watching it.

in Him,
Devin Murphy

Interested in a good christian community to help your church small group get tighter? check out

Adam said...

i appreciate your thoughts on the movie. my wife and i have been very interested in it and were hoping to see it this past week, while we were visiting her parents (they were going to watch our two little ones for us.). to our disappointment, it was not playing anywhere close, so we settled for another film, which turned out to be a mistake. blessings!

alive in Him.

Ian Scott Paterson said...


I enjoy reading your stuff. You're brilliant and write well, but you've got to start being more ambiguous when describing the plots. It's spoiler city up in here.

With all do respect,


chad said...

the wife and I went and saw it. It was nice. I was just suprised to see it hit the mainstream theater. I figured it would be at lexington green or one of the other art houses. I guess it was because 'SuperBad' was such a hit.

I really think that it dealt with the situation really well and captured things on point.

Pat J said...


Nice review, spot on! I saw the film with my wife a couple of weeks back and my reaction was it is the perfect pro-life presentation for many of the reasons you mentioned in your review. As you noted, the issue the film dealt with was what to do with the unborn child, - what was interesting is how they then packaged a response that would not turn off any potential faction of expecting mothers by depicting a "cool," non-Christian kid (did you notice the cross sticker on her locker door with the red line through it?) making the correct choice.

Pat J

Prilgrim said...

Ben took the words right out of my mouth. I recently saw the film and had the same conclusions (like the parents being played very realistically . . . and as supportive as they could be in real life). I even encouraged all my teenagers to see it . . . and they did.

I think there is a lot to be said for the character Juno herself . . . how, in modern society, with less than ideal family settings (if there ever was a ideal family setting in this fallen world) that the girl finds comfort in her own stoic self . . . that does eventuall (and gladly) fail her toward the end.

Fantastic acting and awards will come I'm sure.