I was driving home from this movie and trying to figure out why I felt so bummed about it. It was sweet, touching, and funny as hell, and yet there was a sadness to it, and I found this sort of baffling until I figured it out.
But ok, first off, like I said, it's a very sweet movie. Extremely funny in a sharp, sassy way, and full of immensely likeable characters - especially its heroine, Juno, who is about as likeable as a girl can be. For a movie about a pregnant 16 year old girl, it's incredibly chipper and upbeat. It's not overly mushy or sentimental, despite being about the miracle of life - it's cute and moving and generally does a good job. So why is it depressing?
Well, because the story isn't just about Juno and her pregnancy. When you think about it afterwards, there are 3 big developments in the movie - 1. Juno has a baby, 2. Juno finds love with Bleeker, an adorably awkward and lovely, caring guy, and 3. Vanessa and Mark get a divorce.
Vanessa and Mark are the young couple who want to adopt Juno's baby. And they depressed the hell out of me. First, we've got Vanessa, played by Jennifer Garner. Vanessa annoyed the hell out of me at first, but I grudgingly grew to decide she wasn't all bad. It's not her fault that her character is basically motivated by one thing - her desire for a kid. And we do get one scene where we spy her playing with a toddler, and it's clear that she will make a lovely mother, despite the fact that she's going a little overboard buying baby supplies, reading books, etc. She _wants_ to be a mom. It seems to be the only thing that can really fulfill her. That alone is pretty sad, to me, but hey, she gets the baby in the end, so I guess it's not all bad.
No, the real downer in the movie is her husband Mark, played by that dude who played the main guy in Arrested Development (which I've just started watching). Mark is a totally awesome guy. You really wanna hang out with him - he's supremely likeable and generally a lot of fun. At first, when he and Juno hit it off, we're totally stoked. This guy is gonna make a great dad. He's great with kids. Then, as they get to be better and better friends, we start feeling vaguely uncomfortable. The film doesn't take it too far - there's a scene where they slow dance in the basement that kind of makes you cringe because you have this awful feeling that any minute now, there'll be some sexual tension and everything is gonna blow up, but it doesn't actually happen. The scene ends with a good long supportive hug. And you realize the strangeness of their relationship - he's more like an older brother, really, than a father. No wonder he and Juno get along so well - because he can interact with her as a peer, swapping cds, watching movies, etc. Which, you know, it's not that adults can't be into slasher flicks or Sonic Youth - not at all - but there's something going wrong there, and it's hard to place just what. And then he drops the bomb, his plan on divorcing Vanessa - which really, you could see coming from a mile away. And he gives the speech about not being ready to be a father, and Vanessa gives him the grow up and stop trying to be a rock star speech, and god, it's just so sad. And, I think a very poignant index of a contemporary crisis in maturity. This guy has a job and a wife and a baby on the way and he just can't really fully let go of being a teenager. You don't blame him for feeling the way he does, but you do blame him for ultimately giving into those universal doubts and fleeing them in favor of perpetual adolescence.
And the thing is, ultimately, the movie kind of implicitly endorses that. We've got Juno and her boyfriend, who can happily escape the consequences of unprotected sex, for the most part - by the end of the movie, they're basically like any other teenage couple - her boyfriend doesn't even see his child. We've got Mark, who leaves Vanessa, and the movie, pretty much. Then we've got Vanessa, who indeed gets her happy ending, but still, who wants to be like Vanessa? She's no fun at all! We also have a few other parents - Bleeker's mother, who is a total hosebeast, Juno's mother, who is absent, and then her father and stepmother, who are indeed happily married and a delightful dysfunctional loving family unit. So yes, there's one compelling couple that can serve as a role model for adult family life, but in the meantime, there are plenty of reasons to stay the hell away from that shit altogether. Hence, I think, my vague sense of melancholy. Because I don't wanna end up like Mark - but I don't really wanna end up like Vanessa either.
I'm not saying the movie is a downer - like I said at the outset, it's actually really upbeat and funny and delightful. Still though, there's this lurking melancholia about it, at least for me... Anyhow, a good movie. Recommended.