3 Stars — Insightful

For those who love authentic, well-written dialogue with straightforward honesty that is presented by engaging actors with nuanced directing, then Jason Reitman’s Juno is a film not to be missed. Written by the brilliant if incorrigible Diablo Cody (whose real name is Brook Busey-Hunt, the author of Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper in which she chronicles her year in “the sleaziest” of Minneapolis strip clubs), the lead character of the film embodies her wit and frank approach to life within an engagingly eccentric personality.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a 16-year-old high school junior. The child of divorced parents, she lives in Minneapolis with her father, Mac (J.K. Simmons), stepmother Bren (Allison Janey) and her little sister, Liberty Bell (Sierra Pitkin). Disarming the audience with her witty and concise complexity, Juno explains that “everything began with a chair.” It was on a chair that she had her first sexual experience with Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), the lanky track star who received her advances with gratitude. This singular event created a child.

Although the movie is not a message film about pregnancy, abortion, adoption, divorce or forgiveness, the journey Juno takes through all of these issues explores the realities of life in both its sorrows and its graces. As in any well-told tale, this comedy has us laughing with Juno as she faces realities that are, as she explains, “far beyond my maturity level.” But as we are laughing, we are also living the realities of the decisions she makes because they become our own. As Juno and her best friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby), approach her pregnancy with the naiveté of teens who are exposed to far more knowledge than they are emotionally or spiritually ready to handle, we identify with them and experience how this event does in fact mature us all.

That is not to say the film is full of social or spiritual guidance. Mac and Bren, as Juno’s father and stepmother, seem as overwhelmed by what has happened as their daughter is, and there is no one else in their lives who comes alongside them to provide wise counsel. But they accept Juno completely and demonstrate their love for her by walking with her through the entire experience. They actively protect her dignity and they share in the joy of new life being born. Their terms of endearment shift as their relationship with her changes and all adapt to the choices she makes.

Although the film downplays the social stigma a pregnant teen experiences, it does not avoid the challenges. It is simply a tale that allows us to walk with a young woman through her experience and find grace and forgiveness within it. That is a walk worth taking.

The acceptance that Juno experiences from her father could also be described as the absence of guidance. Do you believe Mac provided Juno with the guidance she needed to navigate her life? Why do you answer as you do?

If you were in Juno’s shoes, what would you have done? What would the consequences of your decision be?

The longing that Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) had to be a mother compelled her to take a path that will also be difficult. What do you believe will be the life of Juno’s child adopted into Vanessa’s home?

When Brook Busey chose the name of Diablo Cody, do you believe she was expressing the desire to become the devil’s advocate? Why do you answer as you do?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.