The opposition that fussy Christians voice toward Juno seems to boil down to the fact that it is filled with sinful people who live, think, and speak like sinners. Then again, this used to be true of the Church, at least until recent times. The fussy Christians seem to want morality plays in place of films, which is ironic, given that it was their fussy Puritan forbears who outlawed plays in the first place.
Juno is not a girl who would be welcomed into the Sinless Church. She’s foul-mouthed, unvirginal, too clever by half, and possessing little respect for authority. Juno has been impregnated by a hapless friend, and she sets out to have an abortion, only to be dissuaded by a lone girl outside the clinic who notes that Juno’s unborn baby has fingernails. So Juno finds adoptive parents, and carries the child to term. The film is a revelation of characters, as we see who Juno might become, as well as who the parents-to-be can become. Here we have broken people struggling to be made whole, which is the story of every one of God’s people before he is fully God’s. It’s the story after you are God’s as well, come to think of it.
From a “message” point of view, it seems to me that Juno will save more lives than 10,000 stern sermons from pulpits and street corners. It is, along with Knocked Up and Waitress, part of a current trend in films wherein very human, very fallible, very loving women explicitly choose to forego aborting their children. If this reflects (or portends) a concomitant change in the broader culture, then the largely inert pro-life crowd will either be dragged into caring for all these children it said it wanted to save, or be proven hypocrites. One likes to hope that the better instinct will prevail, though it may mean setting aside fancy church buildings and ubiquitous small-group Bible studies for orphanages and daycare. But we can always hope that even Christians can change.
As far as art, the ephemeral set of qualities that determine whether a film or book takes fruitful root in one’s soul, Juno is far and above most modern fare. Ellen Page, who plays the title character, is enchanting. She is able to convey with facial expressions alone more feeling and thought than most modern actors seem to manage with a full range of motion, multiple script writers, and a host of special effects. Jennifer Garner also shines, metamorphosing from uptight control freak to yearning mother in a single, breathtaking scene that itself is worth the price of the rental. Jason Bateman manages a seamless yet substantial transformation of his own, and not in the direction one might expect. The supporting actors who play Juno’s family and close friend likewise turn in believable, human performances. The only disappointment is Juno’s sometime boyfriend, played by Michael Cera, who, between this film and his forgettable performance in Superbad, may well be autistic.
The characters don’t all find Jesus in the end. In fact, they never mention Jesus at all, except in vain. But one gets the impression that these are precisely the kinds of people in whom Jesus takes an interest. Perhaps that means that the rest of us ought not look at them, when we encounter such people in real life, as something that must be scraped off our shoes. We could all stand to be reminded from time to time that sinners are humans too, and further, that the open sin can more easily be healed than that which lurks in the dour hearts of the ostensibly sinless.
On my McDonald’s Redbox six-piece nugget scale, I give Juno five and a half nuggets, and that’s with the fancy honey mustard dipping sauce, mind you. Throw in a large fry while you’re at it, cooked extra-crispy, because there’s a cameo by Rainn Wilson that may well make you wet your pants. And be sure to watch the outtakes.