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‘Juno’ Raises Questions About Teen Pregnancy

February 28, 2008 at 6:50 PM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, essayist Anne Taylor Fleming wonders about the Oscar-winning movie “Juno.”

HARRISON FORD, Actor: And the Oscar goes to Diablo Cody for “Juno.”

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING, NewsHour Essayist: “Juno,” the movie that won the Oscar for best original screenplay, is the story of a teenage girl who gets pregnant and gives her baby away.

OLIVIA THIRLBY, Actress, “Leah”: Dude, I think it’s best to just tell them.

ELLEN PAGE, Actress, “Juno MacGuff”: I’m pregnant.

ALLISON JANNEY, Actress, “Bren MacGuff”: Oh, god.

ELLEN PAGE: I’m going to give it up for adoption, and I already found the perfect couple. They’re going to pay for…

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: It hit a nerve, not just with Academy voters, but apparently right through the heartland, where it became a sleeper hit.

Even the highbrow critics raved. This, they all seemed to agree, was the feel-good movie of the year.

I suppose, in contrast to the tough, macho, violent fare that was also in the Oscar running — movies like “There Will Be Blood” and best picture-winner “No Country for Old Men,” dark-hearted ruminations on the villainy of the soul — “Juno” could be considered light-hearted and uplifting.

The young girl at the center of “Juno” stares down her pregnancy with ever-ready quips and steely pragmatism, finding a nice yuppie couple to take her baby.

J.K. SIMMONS, Actor, “Mac MacGuff”: And this, of course, is Juno.

JASON BATEMAN, Actor, “Mark Loring”: Like the city in Alaska.

ELLEN PAGE: No.

MICHAEL CERA, Actor, “Paulie Bleeker”: You’re mad? Why are you mad?

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: The biological father is the quintessential hapless male of romantic comedies, a goofy doofus with a good heart.

At film’s end, when the baby has indeed been handed over to his adoptive mom — the adoptive dad has taken off, but never mind that complication — Juno and her boyfriend go back to being a cute adolescent couple.

But something about the movie left me feeling a bit grumpy and a bit maternal, not toward Juno, but toward the baby she determinedly gives away.

In a lifetime of reporting, I have interviewed many adoptees, heard of their searches, their longings. Even those with great adopting parents can sometimes have a kind of genetic ache, a need or desire to go looking for the birth mom or dad who, in turn, can feel his or her own pulls and tugs and twinges. Hey, even Juno might feel some down the road.

Yes, I know, lighten up. It’s just a movie, a fable, really, about the nicest possible teenage pregnancy outcome: teenage girl with cool parents gets pregnant and isn’t shamed into hiding. Instead, she walks to high school halls with swollen belly, gives birth, gives the baby away, and life resumes, onward and upward.

The good news is that teenage pregnancies have generally been way down over the last two decades. There is a minor recent up-tick, but since the early 1990s, teenage pregnancy rates, birth rates, and abortion rates have declined dramatically due to changing contraceptive use and changes in sexual behavior, including greater abstinence, along with the fear of HIV.

Also, the dreams of young girls have gotten bigger, along with greater educational and employment opportunities for females. All good, all hopeful.

And now comes along this fiercely smart-mouthed scamp getting herself pregnant after sleeping with her boyfriend, completely her idea, the movie suggests. She just wants to know what it’s like. And then, wham-o, there’s a baby to be dealt with, a person baby, someone, a whole live someone.

JENNIFER GARNER, Actress, “Vanessa Loring”: That was magical.

ELLEN PAGE: I think I’m in love with you.

MICHAEL CERA: Like, you mean as friends?

ELLEN PAGE: No, I mean for real.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: I admired the script, just like the Academy voters. It’s deft and clever, just like its young heroine. But I continue to feel unease at all the unaddressed, underlying moral complications buried beneath her quips and pluck.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.