In honor of the Oscars next Sunday, I thought I would devote this week to the five films nominated for Best Picture. Previously: Michael Clayton.

Juno is an engaging and stimulating story that is instructive without being preachy, stirring without being sappy, and edgy without being crude.

Contrary to commenter “Nobody’s” distaste for the film, I found Juno remarkable for its remarkable balance of humor and gravitas. Some of the dialogue certainly is reminiscent of forty-year-olds trying to sound like teenagers, but much of this is only at the beginning. As the movie progresses, Juno loses her teenage verbiage, and the movie takes on a more adult (read: normal) tone. It is a welcome transition.

Despite its shortcomings, Juno is a delightful story that illuminates many of the problems of American youth culture. Juno, a high school girl, gets pregnant with her boyfriend and is forced to decide between aborting the child or giving it up for adoption.

On the one hand, there is reason to cheer Juno’s decision to have the baby. The directors do not shy away from the issue, presenting the abortion clinic that Juno visits in a rather unfavorable light.

In addition, the movie makes clear a deep problem within American home life—there are no men to speak of in the film. Juno’s father is clearly uninvolved, despite his clichéd “wisdom”—I disagree with nearly every platitude he puts forth—he offers near the end of the film. Juno’s boyfriend pathetically abdicates his responsibility for the child, leaving Juno to handle the situation on her own. The husband of the couple adopting Juno’s child decides to divorce his wife to pursue (in rather juvenile fashion) his own desires and dreams, which a baby would clearly inhibit.

If anything, the absence of strong masculine leadership is partly why Juno is so endearing as a character. If she doesn’t take responsibility and leadership for the situation, it would never be resolved. That strength is to her credit, and a damning indictment of the men in her life.

On the other hand, Juno decides to give the baby up to a mother whose husband is divorcing her. The decision is disturbing, for it indicates that the filmmakers are comfortable separating children from the stability of a two-parent household. What matters more, apparently, than having a man around to help raise a child is having a mother who is (problematically) devoted to the idea of having children.

Juno won’t win Best Picture. But it deserves to be considered.

It takes a complex situation very seriously, but manages to be lighthearted and sincere about it at the same time. Though it is not a perfect film (ideologically or technically), it is a very good film that is vastly more enjoyable than Michael Clayton.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

8 Comments

  1. Please don’t use the phrase “give the baby up for adoption” or “put the baby up for adoption.” It adds to the anti-adoption culture of our culture, using language that sounds like “putting it up for sale.” Properly you should say “place” the baby with an adopting family. Words do matter- women who place their babies for adoption are making a deliberate and caring choice.

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  2. I loved the movie. I have actually worked in the adoption field for the past seven years and thought it was a wonderful movie. I particularly appreciated the ending – the movie didn’t shy away from the fact that adoption is a sacrificial decision regardless of the situation. I have great respect for any woman who has the fortitude to choose to give her child life and then place that child with someone else because she believes it is the best thing for the child. I have witnessed it many times and it is a humbling thing to behold.

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  3. Matthew Lee Anderson February 19, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    DWS,

    Thanks for the feedback. I (obviously!) didn’t think much about the semantics of adoption, but now that you have brought it to my attention I will try to change it.

    Best,

    matt

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  4. […] Matthew Lee Anderson: Movie Week at Mere-O: Juno […]

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  5. Matthew,
    I’m very much looking forward to your reviews of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Having seen both of them, as well as Michael Clayton, I have developed a hierarchy of quality and am anxious to see if we are on the same page.
    Best,

    Reply

  6. […] Richard: Movie Week at Mere-O: Juno […]

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  7. Honest to blog!

    What did you think of Knocked Up? It’s not the best film of the year but at least it felt like the author had some familiarity with pregnancy, of which Diablo Cody seems to be completely innocent/ignorant.

    There are plenty of movies about women suffering through their pregnancies so it’s a nice change of pace to see Juno enjoying the ride, but she is so nonchalant throughout that it strains credulity. It’s hard to imagine the non-pregnant Juno we never see behaving or talking any differently than pregnant Juno, who seems impervious to hormonal changes among other things. Was there a single emotional scene in the film or do I need to rewatch it?

    Or is Juno’s lack of emotion a facet of her role as masculine surrogate?

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  8. Matthew Lee Anderson February 27, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Nobody,

    I must confess–I still haven’t seen Knocked Up. I’m trying to talk my wife into letting me Netflix it, but I’ve been unsuccessful. Alas.

    I’m not sure that I would call Juno “nonchalant.” They certainly didn’t show the hormonal changes like they could have, but I think you are underestimating the emotional content of the film. Perhaps it was my state when I viewed it (namely, exhausted), but I found myself genuinely moved at a few points.

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