Juno - discussion guide
Author: Nicola Lee Keywords:
Identity, teenagers, family, love, pregnancy
Film title: Juno
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J. K. Simmons, Alison Janney
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cinema Release Date: 5 December 2007 (USA); 8 February 2008 (UK)
Certificate: PG-13 (USA); 12 (UK)
Amid the falling leaves and beautiful colours of autumn, quirky teenager Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) drinks ‘like, ten tons of Sunny D’, takes three pregnancy tests, and discovers that she has a big problem. As she tells the father, her close friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), these situations, if left unchecked, typically lead to infants, so Juno decides to take matters into her own hands. Deciding against abortion, Juno and her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) set out to find the perfect adoptive parents for the unborn child. As the year progresses, and her condition begins to show, Juno gets to know her chosen family, wealthy suburban couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). She also confronts the judgemental attitudes of her school acquaintances and others in her own inimitable way, providing plenty of laughs for the audience, as well as some fearless insights into her wacky life.
As we see more of Juno and the people who are important to her, we begin to realise that nothing and no one in this film is predictable. Juno is certainly not a stereotypical sixteen-year-old. Eloquent and quick-witted, she is also a compassionate and courageous young woman, far removed from the common conception of teenagers as sullen, self-centred and angst ridden. In fact, very few of the characters in Juno are easy to dislike, and none are superficial. Juno’s gruff father (J. K. Simmons) reveals a warm and loving heart, her dog-obsessed stepmother (Alison Janney) is a true parent and a constant support to Juno. Leah, the best friend, is a cheerleader, but is happy to hang out with the less mainstream Juno without worrying about her image. Bleeker is athletic and ‘cool’, yet also sensitive and devoted to Juno. Even the apparently perfect Mark and Vanessa Loring have a few surprises to let slip.
Nominated for four Oscars, and having already earned more than $72 million at the US box offices, Juno is a major film by any calculation. These achievements are even more impressive when you take into account the fact that the film is a relatively low-budget comedy, and is the debut screenplay of its Oscar-nominated writer, Diablo Cody. The narrative of Juno reflects experiences of both Cody and director Jason Reitman. Cody based the story on an incident in her teenage years, when one of her close friends became pregnant and chose not to have an abortion. Reitman was able to empathise with the other side of the situation, his parents having adopted a child when he was twelve. The major emphasis of the film, however, is not the pregnancy or related issues. The heart of the Juno is its quirky characters and bizarre dialogue. It was the characters that attracted Reitman to the film: ‘I like that the characters defy convention and are people who make personal, as opposed to political, choices for themselves, just like in real life.’ And lead actress Ellen Page suggests that these unique, yet unforgettable personalities are the secret to the film’s success: ‘When someone is honest and whole and well-written, you’re gonna be able to connect to them, no matter what their life, because we’re all made up of the same stuff’ (HollywoodJesus.com).
There are, nonetheless, plenty of issues and questions raised in Juno. Cody acknowledges that teen pregnancy is ‘a hot button issue’, but believes that the film is open to numerous interpretations. ‘You can look at it as a film that celebrates life and celebrates childbirth, or you can look at it as a film about a liberated young girl who makes a choice to continue being liberated. Or you can look at it as some kind of twisted love story, you know, a meditation on maturity.’
More information, along with some amusing short trailers for the film, is available online at http://www.foxsearchlight.com/juno/.
Questions for discussion
Did you enjoy Juno? How believable did you find the characters, and with which of them did you find most easy to empathise?
Screenwriter Diablo Cody asserts that the film ‘raises a lot of questions about love, freedom, marriage and where we’re ultimately supposed to wind up in life.’ What did you feel were the key themes in the film? To what extent did you think that the film took these issues seriously?
Ellen Page, who plays Juno, says that her character is ‘completely devoid of stereotype’. To what extent would you agree with this assessment? How successful do you think the film was in avoiding stereotypes? Did you find that Juno challenged any preconceptions you had about certain kinds of people or situations?
How did the unconventional dialogue affect the way you viewed the characters? How did it reveal or mask the thoughts and feelings of the characters? What was your favourite line of the film, and why? Why do you think people, especially teenagers, enjoy inventing new words and phrases to express themselves?
‘I think that kids get bored and have intercourse.’
Why do you think that being ‘sexually active’ and unwanted pregnancies are so common among teenagers in our society at the moment? How did you feel about the way Juno approaches these issues? How do you think we can respond to such trends helpfully?
Why do you think Juno decides against having an abortion? How did you feel about her decision to give her baby to the Lorings? What would you advise Juno to do in her situation, and what principles underlie your approach to this issue?
Juno has some strong ideas about the kind of parents she wants for her baby. What did you think about her criteria, and what criteria would you set in her situation? The Bible describes God as a perfect Father. To what extent does this inform the way you think about God?
Have you any experience of adoption? If you were in Vanessa’s situation, what would you tell the baby about its family and origins? According to the Bible, belief in Jesus enables Christians to be adopted as God’s children (John 1:12-13). Is this an idea that appeals to you, and does it affect the way you live your life?
Juno’s family is loving and supportive, yet very few conventional family situations are shown in the film. How important is ‘family’ in Juno, and what do you think the film has to say about the way families ought to be? Many families today do not conform to the traditional nuclear model. Why do you think this is, and what might be the implications of this trend?
The film starts and ends ‘with a chair’. Is there any significance in this? To what extent do the characters and their lives change in between, and what lessons are learned?
What did you think of Juno’s relationship with Bleeker? Do you think it is likely that their relationship will last? How is love presented in the film? Did you agree with the conclusions the film comes to?
‘I think it has an extremely universal message, about growing up being true to yourself, and that’s really what matters. And it kind of does have that all-you-need-is-love quality to it; when you break it down, that’s all you really need.’
Would you agree with the above assessment of Juno from actress Ellen Page? Why do you think these themes are so popular in films? To what extent do you agree that love is all you need? Do you think that any of the relationships in the film were presented as being everything the characters needed? Have you had any experience of a completely fulfilling relationship?
All unattributed quotations are taken from the film production notes.
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Author: Nicola Lee
© Copyright: Nicola Lee 2008
Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.