22 January 2008

A flip fairytale? Mais non!

There's a raging discussion regarding a certain Oscar-nominated film (nominees were announced this morning and I'm thrilled to see Diablo Cody was nominated for Juno and I am so happy Jason Reitman was recognized for his direction; incidentally, I'm also delighted to see that the Academy gave a healthy bow to the excellence of Michael Clayton. The discussion is about whether Juno's dialogue is, in one oft-used descriptor, "too cute for its own good," exemplified by exclamations like "Honest to blog!" Amidst all of the verbal tomfoolery, something deep happens in the course of the film, however, and a lot of people seem unable to appreciate both the events and the hilarity that ensues. In my opinion, the uneasiness lies in that cognitive disconnect. During the movie, people laugh. But at the end, something profound has happened, and they look up and say, "Wait! This is too serious an event to enjoy so much. Stop it! We're not supposed to be laughing; we're supposed to be crying!"

I don't know about most of the people who see this movie, but I laugh and cry every damn time. I am tickled halfway to apoplexy by the use of dirty little nuggets like "pork swords." I love the way Ellen Page as Juno sees her best friend flirting with a teacher and smiles at her instead of rolling her eyes. I love the way her family rises to the occasion. I liked how when Juno realizes she's pregnant she immediately faces the decision about what to do next, and everyone follows Juno's lead. She shows great courage in taking full responsibility for something she hadn't thought of beforehand.

I've never been pregnant, but I thought I was for a few days when I was sixteen. Having been born to a sixteen-year-old who withstood lots of pressure to "go to Sweden," code for "have an abortion out of the country and save this family's face," I'd heard what could happen since I was old enough to start asking pretty much any questions. Zap Comix and its ilk followed by the Penthouse and Playboy magazines around in my teens provided the rest of my education (how I anticipated the mail that first Tuesday of the month: I remember the joy at getting to the monthly issue after school before anyone else was home -- I loved the Forum best and recall fondly that brief phase of total innocence when I had no idea 99 percent of those stories were all made up). From about age 11 onward, I knew that the minute I began considering becoming "sexually active," Juno's most-hated phrase, I would be making an appointment at Planned Parenthood, because I wasn't planning on doing what my mother had done. (Perhaps the big surprise for me when I visited the clinic for the first time was seeing that two of the girls I saw every day in my American Studies class had signed in earlier that day.)

A couple of things happened along the way to that first and only pregnancy scare that ensured I would never be the "cautionary whale" Juno finds herself to be. One was that growing up in this time and place for me involved some measure of competition with people who were Going Places. I was not an Ivy Leaguer but many of my peers were, so getting pregnant to me never felt compatible with even my vague and fuzzy future plans. Another was the fact that my mother had gotten pregnant at 16. Yet another was something my parents said to me in the climate of being relatively open about talking about sex. "If you don't feel 100 percent good about sleeping with someone, don't do it. Because you can never undo it." No one was even talking about pregnancy: it was more about my first time, about crossing the border into sexually active territory forever.

That little talk made a huge difference for me, and I turned a few people down along the way who found they had to go somewhere else to relieve their frustrations with me because I wasn't 100 percent up for it. I learned other tricks that helped, but there were a couple of boys who were mighty confused that I thought it made some real difference if they simply switched the outlet they wanted to plug into (whoa there, Pal, that one's grounded!). It felt good to know this about myself and exercise this choice, this right to my own experience. And in retrospect, I deserved that trust that I placed in myself, that my parents placed in me (most of my parents, anyway, most of the time).

So I find I'm a fan of the film Juno not at all because it feels at times like a fairytale of what can happen when the universe rises up to meet you as soon as you take action, or because it's a dreamy look at what can happen when a family trusts and supports their kid in the midst of a life-changing event. I believe it reflects a reality I know, a reality I still believe is possible for my child and for other girls. I like that this character is able to look at the facts of her life and say, "Hold on, I can't have a kid right now," and then do something about it that turns out to be the right thing for a lot of people, including herself. I believe every girl has that girl in her.

One of my favorite exercises in my self-defense class was such a tender and sweet one: we all gave each other -- and ourselves -- the advice we had always wished someone had given us at some critical moment. That's how I feel about this film. Juno stands in my mind for the kind and supportive community we would wish for, were we facing these huge decisions ourselves. It's a kinder, gentler world with this film in it.

And incidentally, I am the first to admit that the film is unrealistic in that no one's flinging "pork swords" or other vulgarities around my house, but I find that I honestly wouldn't mind if they did. I like how Diablo Cody is bringing us all into the here and now with her language; to me she's the Susie Bright of the new millenium, gung-ho about matters carnal without the creepy "sex-positive" label. Who doesn't like to masturbate, after all? What's not to love?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey Vanillagrrl,

Thanks so much for your take on Juno and the compliment... I really appreciate it. I just wrote my own take on what I call "Smushmortion Cinema" of the past year, I bet you'd dig it:


I hope Diablo Cody wins, anything to promote women's interest in movies would be so righteous.