|(via Fox Searchlight)|
Juno is not at the top of many people's love story list because it's not really a romance. I think people really do themselves a disservice by thinking of "romances" as the standard model of a love story. Anyone can fall in love. Anyone can land a date or win someone over--not just any two people, of course, but in general it's not the most difficult thing to get someone to take a chance on you. You know what's really hard? Staying together. Overcoming obstacles. Growing with each other without losing yourself in the process. Love is a lot more complicated than just "getting the guy/girl/gender non-conforming cutie."
I like movies that are about more than just winning that person over (or, "realizing that the right person was right under your nose all along") because to me they just mean more in the grand scheme of life. I rarely want a movie just about two people falling for each other, I want a movie that makes a statement about the nature of love and its meaning in the human experience. Or, more simply put, "romances" are boring and predictable. I don't "escape life" in movies by buying into them, I explore life by digging into them. That's just the kind of moviegoer I am.
I love Juno as a film about love because that's exactly what it is. I think a lot of people just sort of take it at face value as a movie about a girl dealing with her teen pregnancy. That's not what Juno is about. Juno is about the many different kinds of love that are out there, how none of them are really wrong, but how some of them don't last, and maybe they don't need to.
I'm gonna throw down a spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen the movie before, even though it came out 7 years ago. I know a lot of people just didn't care to see a movie about a pregnant teen since it came out around the time that the media became obsessed with the appearance of the TV show Teen Mom.
Okay, now that that business is done with let's get into why Juno is an amazing statement about the nature of love. Firstly, Juno explores a lot of different kinds of love. Let's take a look at the different relationships (not all of them romantic) in the film and the kind of love they represent.
Juno and her unborn child. People forget about this a lot. Juno is planning on aborting her pregnancy (which she has every right to do) but she ends up changing her mind (which she also has every right to do). She has decided that this cluster of cells is actually going to become a person. Once she decided that it's going to be a person, she knows it is her job to do right by it, and she can't do that by raising it herself-- she doesn't have the resources or the maturity or honestly, the will to be a mother in any sense but the biological. She goes off and tries to find a home for the baby that can provide a good home for it. She sees herself as the ultra-important delivery woman that's going to get this child to a good home, and give a good couple a great kid. She cares for this kid deeply, because it is her responsibility to do the best she can for it, even if she feels like it isn't really hers.
Mark and Vanessa Loring. Mark and Vanessa are the married couple that want to adopt Juno's yet-unborn child. They represent a broken love created by a lack of communication. Mark and Vanessa got married pretty young because they just figured that's what people did-- but they didn't really know each other in some ways that are really important when choosing a life partner. Mark isn't ready to be a father and Mark never tells her how he really feels. He's immature and doesn't want to grow with Vanessa-- he's not done being a solo artist, so to speak. Vanessa feels like being a mother is basically her true mission in life, and that eventually Mark will grow up and realize his rockstar dreams are just fantasies. She really shouldn't be with someone who's not ready to be a father. Both of them keep telling themselves that the other one will come around-- they have to, they're already committed to each other. But in the end, it falls apart. Mark leaves. He's not ready and he couldn't force himself to be. Neither of them would have ended up in that situation if they had both been open with each other, realizing before they got married they weren't right for each other.
Mark and Juno. This dynamic gives a lot of people weird feelings. Is 30-something Mark trying to put the moves on a pregnant teen? My answer is no, not really. Mark is not so much flirting with Juno as he is with his own youth. He's imagining a younger him flirting with a cool girl like Juno at her age. Juno is reminding him of all the stuff he's missing out on now that he has to be Vanessa's version of a husband and it's intoxicating to relive that stuff that he feels was truly him. He's imagining a life outside of his commitment to Vanessa-- other jobs, other hobbies, other women. It's not about Juno, it's about what she represents is missing from Mark's life. And not one of those things is the baby.
Vanessa and Juno. Vanessa is this paragon of motherhood. Juno really appreciates that about her. They say some are born with greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Maybe it's the same for motherhood-- and Vanessa is one of the ones born with it. If Juno sees Mark as the cool dad (and admittedly she likes that idea more for superficial reasons than anything else), she sees Vanessa as the perfect mom, not necessarily for herself, since she's kind of more of a hands-off kid, but for another kid who'd have a chance to grow up with that kind of influence in their life. Juno doesn't totally "get" Vanessa, but that's okay because Juno's not going to be a mom (at least not yet) and she doesn't have to be there, maturity-wise. Vanessa kind of wants to mother Juno a little too, but realizes not only is that not her place, but that Juno is her own person, bearing a child, and not just some scruffy teen.
Juno and the Lorings. Juno tries to find a good home for her baby and she believes she's found it in the Lorings. They are so normal. They live in a beautiful McMansion, seem pretty cool, and like they will take good care of the kid. They both have jobs, they make good money, and will provide a better home than she could reasonably have expected. They seem so picture-perfect... but that doesn't mean that it actually is as great as it looks. The Lorings serve as a stark contrast to Juno and Paulie's relationship in terms of much more than just fertility. They are the people who followed the formula for love-- guy meets girl, both are cute, date for a while, end up married because-that's-what-you-do-- but they weren't right for each other so they fall apart. Juno and Paulie are the kids that have no idea what they are doing, get pregnant before they really "get together", but they're the couple that is going to make it, because what they have is real-- even if it's weird and messy.
The Lorings also represent heartbreak and disillusionment. Juno thought that they had everything and that her kid was going to a good home, but when it falls apart she breaks down. It's not just about losing a home for her unborn child (though that is a big part of it) but about her loss of faith in humanity and love. She finds herself asking if two people can ever really stay together in a "forever-and-ever" kind of way. How could this couple that had everything fail to make it work, and if they couldn't make it work, was there hope for anyone else?
Meanwhile in the background there are lots of other love stories happening.
Juno and her father. Fatherly love at its finest, Mac MacGuff is concerned but ultimately has an approach of guiding from afar. He gives her awesome advice and perspective. He explains to her the differences between his relationship with her biological mother and her step mom to help make a point about what love really means when she comes home wondering if anyone even really can stay with someone else forever.
Mac MacGuff and Juno's biological mother. Things did not work out between these two. Even though Juno's dad got Juno out of the whole deal, that still didn't mean the situation was going to work. Juno's mom is honestly more interested in cactuses than she is her own daughter-- and sometimes that's just how it is. There's no forcing it. Some people just don't work, awesome kid or not. This relationship shows that good things that came out of a relationship don't mean it's worth forcing yourself to stay in, and also that not every bad relationship is without its lasting joys.
Mac MacGuff and Bren MacGuff (Juno's Stepmom). This relationship is about partnership. It's not a hot, sexy love. It's not a boring, dead love or even a super romantic love. It's the kind of love that's about caring rather than passion and it makes me so happy. I feel like people forget about that whole thing, which is kind of sad. To me love is about partnership more than anything else. Bren and Mac care for each other, and maybe that's what's more important than constant romance.
Bren MacGuff and Juno. Holy crap, do I love this relationship. Juno kind of doesn't really care all too much for her step mother in the beginning of the film, not because she dislikes Bren, but because Bren sort of seems like her dad's deal and Liberty Bell's deal more than her own. She doesn't get Bren's weird obsession with dogs. She just sees Bren as like, a weird piece of furniture her dad brought into her life more than an actual mother figure. But then as the story goes on, Bren does a better job of reaching out to her and Juno does a much, MUCH better job of letting her guard down and reaching back. Not only does Juno finally understand (or at least appreciate) Bren's dog thing, but Bren stands the hell up for Juno when she's getting an ultrasound done. That scene is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, not just because it's all about "don't tell a woman what she can or can't do" and "how dare you assume to know this girl's situation" but because it's the scene where Bren finally gets her moment to be seen by Juno as a protective figure and woman-whom-she-can-relate-to. This dynamic undergoes a lot of change through the course of the film and I think too many people overlook it. This type of love is quiet and fierce.
By the end of the film, Juno has really figured some heavy stuff out about love and her relationships with those around her. She's figured out who the guy for her is, at least for the foreseeable future. She's got a better appreciation for her awesome family, including Bren. She's done one of the most important things she will ever do on a global scale, which is bring someone else into the world and give it to a good home (even if it wasn't her own). She's learned about what makes two people work out, and she's learned that a lot of things don't guarantee it all coming together. This is a movie that's not about getting together, it's about staying together-- and I love that. It's one of my favorite movies. I totally recommend a rewatch with this stuff in mind, because I promise you, you'll get a lot more out of the movie if you watch to see these microstories and threads play out. It's like a coming of age story about a girl coming of age not because she got pregnant and gave birth to a kid, but through learning about love as it exists in the world around her.
What are you doing this Valentine's Day? What are your favorite love story films?