The film I have chosen for this paper is the drama-comedy Juno directed by Jason Reirman. It is a domestic comedy with anarchic elements. In the film, you get to follow Juno MacGuff, a 16-years-old girl, as her life changes when she finds out that she is pregnant. It’s a realistic film told from Juno’s point of view. The film touches several controversial, populist themes, but manages to do so without being cliché. The most obvious being the teen pregnancy, but other topics such as the curiosity of sex among teenagers, the constant questioning of whether abortion is okay or not comes along with it.
A big part of the film takes place in Juno’s home, which is typical for a domestic comedy. The main plot of the movie touches themes common to family life.
There is the “modern family” core with stepmothers and half-siblings, the complicity in being a teenager as well as raising one. The more or less ordinary family life is displayed with a lot of humor.
The questioning of stereotypes and prejudices play a big role in this film, as do contrasts. Instead of the cheerleader getting pregnant with the quarterback, as many would expect, it is the tomboy and the geeky runner who end up in that situation. As most teens portrayed in films, Juno has a close girlfriend. The odd thing in this case is that it is not a girl considered stranger than Juno herself in terms of norms, it is the cheerleader.
In many other of these teen films, usually the cheerleader bugs the “odd girl”, as for example in “Mean Girls”. The most prominent contrast in the film is the home of the MacGuffs VS. the home of the adoptive parents Mark and Vanessa Loring. The two homes are set like two different worlds. In the MacGuff house, it seems like it is impossible to have too many lamps, ornamental dogs or photo frames.
The color scale goes in earthy brown tones. Meanwhile, the Loring house does not seem to ever be perfect enough. As Vanessa and Mark are introduced to the story, Vanessa is putting the photo frames in order and arranging the flowers until they are perfect. The dominant colors in the Loring house are clean bright colors as beige and white. The houses become symbols for how different the two families are. The easygoing, messy MacGuffs, and the uptight, stiff Lorings. For the opening scene of the film, there is a long shot of Juno standing in front of an armchair. The armchair is going to be a symbol throughout the movie. The camera cuts to a close up of Junos face and her empty eyes staring at the chair, delivering a
message of frustration and hopelessness.
She has a monolog where she tells the viewer about the chair, that it was in a chair everything started, where she got pregnant. A “film inside the film” of Junos memories from that moment is shown for the viewer. A dog barks and the camera makes a quick cut back to reality, Juno and the chair. She leaves the chair behind and the camera follows her as she goes to the local corner shop to get a pregnancy test, the third for the day. She is dressed in a red hood and blue jeans, the red symbolizes her strong, colorful personality. Red is also a symbol for life and vitality, a color symbolism very suitable for the scene. She takes the pregnancy test in the store’s narrow restroom, which has a dim low-key lightning. The setting reinforces the feeling of Juno being “painted into a corner”. As she takes the test, the camera cuts between close-ups of Junos legs as she sits down, the pregnancy test and her face. These close-ups make the relationship between Juno and the viewer intimate and one gets to feel sympathy for her. It is important to anchor the sympathy for Juno in the beginning of the film since the viewer will get to follow her during her journey. Juno leaves the store and walks home, the camera follows her from behind. Darkness has fallen and Juno has put the hood over her head as a way to alienate herself from the surrounding world. As she walks, a group of guys from her school comes running towards her.
They are out of focus and run by her on both sides, creating like a tunnel for Juno to walk through. To me the runners are a metaphor for the thoughts running through Juno’s head and the difficult repressed situation in which she has ended up. Juno is portrayed as a stubborn, cocky girl who takes her own way in life. She has dark hair that she wears in a ponytail and her clothes are far from what typically are considered “girl clothes”. She wears loose fitted jeans, t-shirts, pullovers and hoods. Her best friend, Leah, on the other hand is a cheerleader with long blond hair who dresses in skirts and is much of a “girly-girl”. As the Leah is introduced to the audience, the contrasting personalities between the two friends are shown trough the mise-en-scene. When Juno calls Leah to tell her about the pregnancy, the camera cuts between the two girls and their bedrooms. Junos room has a shoebox feeling to it. There are photos of her friends, posters and different paintings all over the walls as well as the ceiling. She has plectrums laying all over her desk and a miniature electric guitar that gives away her interest for music. The dominating colors are earthy tones of brown, red and orange.
Leah’s room on the other hand is dominated by light colors such as pink, white, yellow and dim blue. She has stuffed animals on a shelf and big windows with thin, light curtains. Juno decides that the way to tell the baby’s father, Bleeker, about the pregnancy is to set up a living room setting in his yard where she can break the news. When darkness falls, Leah is helping to move everything that is needed. They help each other to lift a heavy armchair into the trunk of Junos car. In this scene, the armchair is a symbol for the pregnancy, something that only the girls know of so far. It is still a complex, heavy secret kept in the dark, just like the chair. Reirman uses color values in a broad way through the film, especially when it comes to the characters clothes. In the loading of the armchair scene, Juno wears a red hood while Leah wears a blue. This highlights the different personalities of the two young girls even more. As the pregnancy progresses the color of Junos clothes changes from the bright red hood to earthier, duller colors in green and brown shades.
This color change reinforces Junos situation and the effect the pregnancy has on her life. Another example of color value being used is when Vanessa gets to see her son for the first time. She is then wearing a yellow sweater, symbolizing the joy she feels after finally becoming a mother. A task she feels she has been born to. During a visit to the prospective adoptive parents Juno finds out that Mark is going to divorce Vanessa, sad and frustrated she heads back home. The camera is shooting from the backseat as Juno is driving; she is placed to the left of the frame and the long, empty road ahead of her to the right. This creates a movement from left to right, giving the viewer a feeling of optimism and that everything will work out for the best. The camera cuts to a panning shot as Juno parks the car by the side of the road. A cut to a low angle is made, showing a close up of Juno as she cries. The gray seat, ceiling and the steering wheel creates a tight frame around Juno.
There is a claustrophobic feeling through the setting, which emphasizes the fragile state Juno finds herself in. Juno decides that if Vanessa is still willing to be a mom, Juno is willing to give her the baby. The majority of the film is shot in high key lightning, typical for comedy movies. This goes for the scene at the hospital when the baby is born as well. However, in the next scene this will change. The camera shows a close up of Mr. MacGuff as he pats the head of his daughter who just gave birth. The lightning has gotten softer, giving the yellow color of the walls a warm soothing glow. There is calm and a balance over the scene, giving the feeling that everything is going to be okay from now on. The camera then cuts to a shot from Junos point of view showing Bleeker standing in the door opening. The walls behind Bleeker are blue and contrasting to the goldish colors in Junos hospital room.
The colors and the separating walls become a metaphor for the “cold” reality Bleeker is just coming from, and the warm future that he is about to step into with Juno. A reality more suitable for two 16-year-old kids, where they do not have to be parents. Juno is a realistic film anchored in reality, there are several references to modern culture to underline this. Films and “hobbits” are mentioned, but the main thing is the music. Music is a big part of Junos life and her personality. It also becomes a key element when Juno and Mark are bounding. They burn CD’s to each other and discuss music by Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith among others. To convey that the film is told from Junos point of view, Reirman uses her voice over as rapid cuts are made of what she is talking about. This technique is used when Juno introduces her family. As she talks about her mother, who is living in Arizona, the camera cuts to long shot of a desert house in the middle of a beige field. The tone of Juno’s voice says that the mother’s absence does not bother her that much, as to the dullness of the colors in the shot.
The camera then cuts to extreme close-ups of the smiles of her mother’s new family, the husband and their three “replacement kids”. To show the viewer that the mother has been out of the picture for a long time the camera cuts to a close up of numerous cactuses in a window. Juno’s voice over is explaining that her mother sends her one cactus every valentine’s day. In Juno, the mise-en-scene is frequently used to strengthen the message of the film. By using color values, lightning keys and symbolism Reirman captures the contrasts of the story. I do not know if I would call Juno my favorite film, but it is definitely one of my favorite “feel-good” films. No matter what mood I am in, I always feel much happier and more positive after watching this film. I love the sarcasm in the film and I can see much of myself when I was 16 in Juno. I like how the film takes up such a controversial and taboo topic with as much humor as it does. To me it makes the film appealing instead of feeling as a “moral message to teenagers”.
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