I liked Juno. A lot. I sniffled when Allison Janney’s character rallied to her stepdaughter’s aid as a snide ultrasound technician waxed self-righteous about teenage pregnancies. I smiled when the two teen lovers ended up together at the end, strumming a cheesy hipster song as the credits rolled. And, though I had to suspend disbelief to compute Juno and her cohorts’ quick, hyperintelligent wit, I bought Ellen Page’s performance and screenwriter Diablo Cody’s tale of a precocious, love-struck high schooler navigating the emotional fault lines of social norms and personal mores.
While director Jason Reitman and Juno’s producers have no chance of nabbing Oscars for directing or best picture, Page and Cody have a real shot at best actress and original screenplay. And they’ve earned those bald gold men. But come Sunday, I don’t want to see them stumbling up the Kodak Theatre’s stage. Why? A) It will unleash another irritating round of rehashing Cody’s stripping career (it’s a contact sport among many journos, especially those in her onetime writing turf and Utne Reader home, Minneapolis). And, more importantly: B) It means we’ll be subjected to another torrent of outmoded feminist screeds attacking the movie’s irresponsible glamorization of the choice not to have an abortion.
As if the purpose of good filmmaking were to toe the party line by littering the silver screen with valuable life lessons. As if characters were supposed to be Eisensteinian archetypes or relatable Lifetime drama queens. There’s a name for that kind of artistically bankrupt storytelling: the after-school special.
Yes, as Caitlin Flanagan pointed out in a New York Times op-ed, Juno is a fairy tale of sorts. It doesn’t crunch the numbers to show that we’re in the midst of an epidemic of state-sponsored abstinence-only education that has teen births on the rise. Or show a harrowing tale of a young woman forced into a back alley by restrictive state parental consent laws. But while Juno may not tell a true story (“inspired by actual events”), it resonates truth, the truth that women—no matter what age—can struggle deeply with the choice to abort.
When the left rails against a movie—and a good one on that—for even fathoming the idea of a young woman shunning abortion and giving the child up for adoption, then we’ve abandoned the ethos of compassion and understanding that’s necessary to successfully engage the anti-choice machine. Juno’s opponents have chosen a faulty front in the culture war.