Oncology Times:
doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000313059.09582.43
Department: Turrisi Takes on the Movies

‘JUNO’

Turrisi, Andrew T. III, MD

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Radiation Oncologist-in-Chief Detroit Medical Center Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, Wayne State University School of Medicine

Directed by Jason Reitman, written by Diablo Cody. Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, JK Simmons, and Allison Janney.

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The Juno of Roman myth, wife of Jupiter, patron of marriage, cannot be found in this wonderful coming-of-age comedy. As Juno is written by Ms. Diablo Cody, a modern-day Juno in her own right and former ecdysiast, and is brought into action and life by director Jason Reitman, who gave us the satirical Thank You for Smoking, and whose dad Ivan Reitman directed Ghostbusters I & II, this Juno speaks with a distinctly Canadian accent, with the director and the two main actors all from “up north.”

This movie emits the bright light of its chief sunny character, Juno McGuff (Ellen Page), who dominates the action as a girl “in trouble” who has no trouble being a girl in charge. A self-proclaimed, pint-sized tomboy from Nova Scotia, Page swoops through this movie on her mission to extricate herself from accidental teen-age pregnancy. Smart girls are supposed to know how to reserve their chastity or at least play safe.

As the summer comedy Knocked Up dealt with the subject with moronic insensitivity, disrespectful to both women and so-called male archetypes, and now Roe v. Wade just marking its 35th anniversary, the subject of reproductive rights rings during the presidential campaigns. I waited to see Knocked Up, which just isn't worth an intelligent person's time in its idiotic and utterly puerile Animal House version of this serious issue.

Juno is a movie I want my teen (and pre-teen) kids to see because it deals with the subjects with sensitivity, and it also shows that casual sex and experimentation has consequences. While Juno herself defines indefatigable, it is not easy for a resourceful kid with supportive parents to maneuver the treacherous emotional waters, avoiding the rapids as well as the shoals.

She, and willing partner Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), are classic nerds, and even the “non-cool” kids can get caught in a world of closed eyes and minds. The Economist recently reviewed the book Nerds: Who They Are, and Why We Need More of Them by David Anderegg. He makes the point that these are the smart and curious kids who do not conform to the power elite of the schools; they march to their own drum beat. They commonly are outcasts or socially inept: they're just nice kids who do not wear the au courant mufti and will not be tomorrow's Lindsays or Britneys—thank god.

But they still can explore and get into pickles. “Nerd” comes to us from Dr. Seuss's 1950 If I Ran the Zoo: “And then just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo. And bring back a It-kutch, a Preep and a Proo, a Nerkle and Nerd and a Seersucker too.” (And I thought a nerd was Mortimer Snerd, minus an “S”!).

Juno and Paulie decide to abandon virginity, and Juno leads the not entirely willing Bleeker to his de-flowering. Unlike most nerds, Paulie may be a low talker, but he runs cross country and track and has both a heart and a head.

Cera has an uncanny sensitivity even in non-verbal ways. Unlike the stereotype of the predatory male, he was seduced and still had the decency, and for the most part the Juno-Bleek friendship survived the sudden veering into sexuality and then the roller coaster of pregnancy in high school. These are good likeable kids and their experimentation relieves them too soon of innocence.

The business of the movie is how a glib, smart, cheeky girl can deal with this. Her sidekick, Leah (Olivia Thrilby) deftly plays the cute, loyal, realistic girlfriend—I've seen this girl-type in my house. Juno is very much on her own as she walks the blind alleys to the picketed abortion clinic with the multiply pierced and burned-out receptionist, to the “spawn” ads in the local news where the childless couples plead by way of the local throwaway for girls in trouble to be the balm for their barren homes. She deals with this on her own, and with uncommon maturity, and with comedic banter that is bitter-sweet and funny without being silly or sophomoric.

Her dad Mac McGuff (JK Simmons) has that familiar look that you might remember from the HBO Oz series or Law & Order or The Closer. His throw-away line to her of “Juno, I thought you were a girl that knew when to say when” belies his genuine affection, and decency that any kid in trouble needs. The parents are bulwarks of support, but the girl makes the choices.

She finds the Lorings, the prospective parents, in their too-perfect suburb, in too-perfect white and off-white, and hits it off with Mark (Jason Bateman) more than Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). They need the mythic Juno, goddess of marriage, instead of the quirky teen willing to deliver their bundle of joy with no strings attached.

Many have lauded Garner's performance as the hyper-controlling Vanessa, but her character gave me as much pause as that of her adolescence-prolonged, jingle-making hubby. If I were the kid in utero, I'd vote for Juno or her parents over these unfulfilled hyper-yuppies. Mark Loring clings to adolescence, longs to avoid being a grown up, and has almost a creepy compatibility with Juno.

The movie is punctuated by the seasons, marking ironically the pregnancy as well as the school year, and the running legs of high school boys and the long-white legs topped by yellow gym-shorts of Bleeker. Both Bleek and Juno are sweet kids ripped into maturity by indiscretion and a bad choice. They seem to survive.

The movie does not preach or have a political agenda. It is a journey that some pundits have called a “fairy tale,” but it does not have a moral or even demand that the gods be repaid by unending human suffering. It exposes the vulnerability of girl-children on the verge of womanhood, and the emotional and physical minefield that sex delivers.

Perhaps this is why I want to bring my kids. The movie has a clever, but entirely safe message: Having unprotected sex even once can have disastrous consequences. I don't have to say it. They do. And they do it so well for pint-sized Canadian tomboys and long legged Ontario quiet boys. And eloquence sometimes comes better in these packages than from mom or dad, but conversations, even with pregnant pauses and uncomfortable giggles, are better than being too young to be or to cause a pregnancy.

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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