I Just Rewatched Juno — Here's How It Holds Up In A Post-Roe World
Some critics have deemed the film anti-choice, but it's a bit more nuanced than that.
Let's go back in time to late 2007, when a fictional precocious pregnant teen named Juno won over the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. I was the exact target demographic for the Oscar-winning indie hit, as I'd just finished up my first semester of freshman year at a liberal arts school filled with Juno MacGuff-like hipsters when it hit the big screen.
Though I never quite had her signature tongue-in-cheek vocabulary or an unplanned teen pregnancy to contend with, I was curious to see how Juno holds up now that it's as old as the teen characters in the film, particularly with regards to how it handled abortion — especially in a post-Roe world, when safe and equitable abortion access is becoming increasingly unavailable to patients across the country.
A Quick Recap
Juno stars Elliot Page as the titular character who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at 16 after one awkward sexual encounter with her crush, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). She opts to have an abortion at first, changing her mind when she crosses a fellow classmate protesting at the abortion clinic proclaiming that "All babies want to get borned!" The classmate also tells Juno that her baby has both a heartbeat and fingernails — despite knowing nothing about how far along Juno is in her pregnancy — prompting her to run out of the clinic before having the procedure done.
With the support of her best friend, Juno tells her dad and stepmom (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) that she's planning to give the baby up for adoption and has found the perfect couple, Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner — side note: I'd forgotten how stacked with talent this movie is).
Vanessa clearly longs for a baby, but Mark's apprehension becomes apparent pretty quickly. Without spoiling a movie 16 years after its release, the ending is unexpected, heartfelt, and more sugary than the massive jug of Sunny Delight Juno downs at the start of the movie to make herself pee for multiple pregnancy tests.
Though teen pregnancy has been a topic in movies and TV shows for decades, it's worth mentioning the point in culture at which Juno was released in order to understand the framework set by the story. Juno came out six months after Knocked Up — which famously didn't even offer abortion as an option for the pregnant lead character — and on the heels of shows like The Secret Life of the American Teenager and 16 and Pregnant, which ranged from thinly veiled pro-life messaging (the former) and exploitative voyeurism (the latter).
Coincidentally, the moral panic of teen pregnancy hit a fever pitch the week of Juno's theatrical release. Days before the movie's premiere, Jamie Lynn Spears, then 16, announced she was pregnant with her first child, ushering a tabloid frenzy that dominated headlines for months. At the time, the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. was also on the rise, making the film culturally relevant in more ways than one.
The Test of Time
If you can get past the fact that Juno is aggressively 2007 in its styling, quirky-by-design dialogue, and painfully twee soundtrack, what remains is a hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age story worth revisiting in present-day times.
That said, there's plenty of cringe, including a xenophobic remark: Juno telling her prospective adoptive parents they "should've gone to China" because "they give away babies like free iPods." There's also some casual slut-shaming, such as when Juno's (mostly) well-meaning dad tells her he didn't think she was "that kind of girl." Her ultrasound technician also slut-shames her, but Juno's stepmom and best friend swiftly come to her defense.
The film also doesn't adequately address the predatory vibes given off by Mark, the prospective adoptive father, who hits on 16-year-old Juno pretty heavily every time he's not under the watchful eye of his wife. Mark is treated as the villain in the story, but not for hitting on a child — instead for being an unsupportive husband.
The Abortion Question
As for how the film handles abortion, it seems up for interpretation. One could argue that Juno exercised autonomy over her body by choosing to carry out her pregnancy and fulfill the dreams of someone longing for a child. You could also argue that she decided to go ahead with her pregnancy not of her own free will but out of fear after what her protesting classmate said to her at the clinic. Of course, Juno would be an entirely different film if she had gone through with an abortion.
All in all, it's an incredibly realistic portrayal of how a teenager might feel in the face of an unexpected pregnancy: overwhelmed and easily swayed by the messages they're receiving from those around them. The scene at the abortion clinic is also painfully accurate — the M.O. of pro-life protesters is to be coercive and manipulative towards pregnant patients who might be in an incredibly vulnerable state.
Elliot Page and Diablo Cody's Thoughts
In 2022, Juno marked its 15-year anniversary. In separate interviews, Page and Diablo Cody, the film's screenwriter, reflected on their experiences and how they feel about it now. Page told Esquire that he felt uncomfortable around the film's release due to his gender dysphoria, and that being forced to wear dresses at promotional events "literally did almost kill" him.
Page acknowledged that "people, especially teenage girls, really responded to" the character of Juno, adding, "I wish I could go back and experience it now. As me."
Cody is less forgiving in her reflection, telling The Hollywood Reporter she "never intended the movie as any kind of political statement at all." At the time, it simply had never occurred to her that her "reproductive rights could be in danger."
"I am emphatically pro-choice and have been my entire life. And it is important to me to make that clear," she added. "I can understand why people would misunderstand the movie. Looking back at it, I can see how it could be perceived as anti-choice. And that horrifies me."
She continued, "Back in 2008, I got a letter from some administrator at my Catholic high school thanking me for writing a movie that was in line with the school's values. And I was like: 'What have I done?' My objective as an artist is to be a traitor to that culture, not to uplift it."
In fact, it was Cody's Catholic upbringing that inspired her to write the abortion clinic scene, but she said "the last thing I would ever want is for someone to interpret the movie as anti-choice. That is a huge paranoia of mine."
Though Cody herself might not revisit the film, it certainly has re-watch value if you need a hefty dose of saccharine nostalgia. Here's hoping the complexities of abortion and unplanned pregnancy can continue to be tackled in a way that is sensitive to the topics and understanding of the nuances, without shame or judgment, no matter someone's choice. (And yes, every pregnant person should have the freedom to choose what they do with their own body, no matter what certain lawmakers think.)
I also still kind of want a hamburger phone, so there's that, too.