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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Juno

My much older twin sister Clamydia decided for some ungodly reason to send her housekeeper’s daughter to visit me as a Christmas present (mostly to herself I suspect) since the girl had never seen snow before. Consuela was recently arrived from the Dominican Republic and her only grasp of the word “snow” involved the dealing of a certain ‘nasal decongestant’ that is illegal in this country. Her mother came to work for my sister only three months ago, but Clamydia swears that while the woman can barely speak a word of English she can polish a set of silver flatware for 48 in less than an hour, clean and skim the pool every morning before breakfast, sculpt a dozen bushes into topiary characters in an afternoon, and she not only keeps their 20 room house spotless but also turtle waxes both her and her husband’s Mercedes every day without asking for a single afternoon off. Oh, and since she’s in this country illegally without a green card and any idea how to drive, she is as content as a pig in mud to work for room, board, and the change she finds under couch cushions here-and-there. Okay, so my sister is not exactly Bono when it comes to her views on human rights, but that’s not what this story is about.

So here I was, minding my own business last week, gazing mindlessly at the snow falling in inches, then pounds, across my patio when the doorbell rings out front. I couldn’t imagine anyone wading through the mess outside to see me unless it was an emergency, so you can imagine how shocked I was to answer it and find the trembling figure of a 15½ year old girl, dressed in nothing more than a pair of flip-flops, cut-off jeans, and a tank-top with the slogan “I’d rather be purging” on it. She presented me with a note to explain everything, and before I could signal the cab that had dropped her, it drove off, leaving me the confused hostess to this skinny little stranger before me.

By the following morning I had resigned myself to this unexpected visitor’s stay and Consuela had settled in comfortably, complete with her “lucky chicken” named ‘Buena Suerte’, which seemed to have appeared from nowhere considering she came with only a mesh duffle bag. I’ll confess that I was having trouble adapting to her very heavy accent and it was a struggle most of the time to understand what she was saying. If she was from India, she would be positively perfect to provide technical assistance for Windows or any state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Yesterday, she asked me “Juno what iz to be sisteen and like preegnont?” Honestly, I wasn’t sure if she was asking me to take her to the new movie about teenage pregnancy called Juno or if she was asking if I knew from personal experience what it was like to be knocked up by my mid-teens, you know. I decided that I’d err on the side of cowardice and take her to see the movie and let her mother handle the birds and bees talk when she got back to Miami.

As we settled into our seats, I had to remind Consuela that unlike in her old homeland, we did not bring poultry into the movie palaces so there was no need for her to scatter chickenfeed on the floor of the theater, a gesture I am sure would not be met with much enthusiasm by the staff of the Essex Cinemas who come in between each showing to clean up the theaters. Old habits die hard, and Consuela teared up a bit and mumbled something I’m sure was extremely rude in Spanish. At just that moment she produced her beloved ‘Buena Suerte’ from the Louis Vuitton Fall Collection ’07 handbag I’d given her and she smiled as if she had just brought penicillin to the New World for the first time. I scolded her and told her I didn’t understand how she ever got that damned chicken past customs and into this country but she better put it back there before the movie started or I’d turn it into Jewish penicillin and we’d all be having soup for dinner. With that she ran off to the restroom, and when she reappeared she was apparently fowl-free, just as the lights dimmed. I don’t know what she did exactly, but she sat there through the entire movie squirming as if she was terribly uncomfortable. At least I didn’t hear a peep out of her.

As for Juno, this movie pregnancy was not like any teenage pregnancy I remember, but then when I was a teen, being “with child” sans husband and without a birth certificate that said you were at least 21 or older marked you as an “Olio Girl”. You know “Olio”, “the low-priced spread.” More likely than not, your parents would have shipped you off to until then unheard of “relatives” for a school term when where you really went was an honest-to-God Home for Unwed Mothers, usually run by nuns whose expressions ran from pinched to dour and who could barely conceive of the idea of sex yet alone conceive a baby of their own.

In the movie, though, Juno (Ellen Page; X-Men 3: The Last Stand) breezes through life as if pregnancy is a speed bump as much as anything else. This free-spirited kid knows herself better than anyone I ever hung out with when I was her age. She totally gets that she is not, in her words, “emotionally mature” enough to handle having a baby. Instead, she weighs her options rationally and first opts for an abortion until a classmate, picketing the clinic, tells her that her baby already has fingernails. Somehow, that one human trait is all it takes for Juno to change her mind and check out “The Pennysaver” ads for potential adoptive parents. Those ads, it seems, are “next to the ones for birds and ferrets, and sh*t.”

Even her father and step-mother take the news of her pregnancy in stride. Dad Mac MacGuff (J.K. Simmons; Rendition) is almost relieved to hear that his “Junebug” is procreating. At least she hadn’t been expelled or was on hard drugs. Step-mother Brenda (Allison Janney; Hairspray) embraces the condition as if it is another simple household responsibility she can manage and she seems completely stripped free of judgment ~ at least for Juno. You should see what she has to dole out for her step-daughter’s few would-be critics though. Yowza! Everyone should be lucky enough to have a mother like Brenda on their side.

As for the boy who conceived Juno’s dilemma? Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera; Superbad) is the penultimate nerd, and Cera is heartbreakingly perfect in his awkwardness about the situation and in his inability to know how to relate to the girl he believes he truly loves (as much as any 16 year old can truly be in love). He is as oddly out of place in Juno’s world as she seems to be in his, but together they do have a sweet chemistry. Where Juno is all combat boots and f-bombs, Paulie is sweatbands and matchbox cars. He relishes his time on the track team and while Juno seems she could be voted “most likely to fire bomb the school” by her senior class.

Also circling in Juno’s orbit during this period are the prospective parents she finds for her unborn baby. Mark and Vanessa Loring are an affluent couple who live an hour away from Juno’s Minnesota hometown and they could not seem more different than her and her family. Mark (Jason Bateman; The Kingdom) is a friendly, cheerful commercial composer while Vanessa (Jennifer Garner; also from The Kingdom) is his high-strung, nervous baby-craving wife, who seems to feel that her entire life hinges on this particular child.

All of the actors in Juno are excellent beyond reproach, but the greatest credit must go to the remarkable script by 29-year-old newcomer Diablo Cody, and to director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) for filming it without massive revisions to the language or plot flow as happens with most Hollywood films. Juno feels like a totally “real” stream-of-consciousness piece, with the most believable, natural and unfettered language I’ve heard in a film in years. These characters talk like actual people on the street do. By that, I don’t mean it is all f-bomb this and f-bomb that, but the language just sounds ridiculously normal and often-times hysterical. I don’t recall a time since Napoleon Dynamite that I’ve laughed so often and so hard at some of the silly stuff that high school kids say that you just know kids really say ~ not stuff adults write that they think kids might say which is nowhere close. Clearly, Cody has an ear for dialogue and knows enough teens in her circle to know what is the current lingo to get it right for right now. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see the movie. It’s too good to spoil here.

So by the time Juno came to an inevitable end (she has a baby!), and the movie winds down with some touching and beautiful (but not cheesy) moments, I looked over at my houseguest and wondered how much of the film she understood. I hoped she might at least appreciate the message that she is far too young to be having a baby. If only.

Yes, if only there had been a scene or two in the movie
that had mentioned something about not picking at gum under theater seats. Instead of watching Juno, apparently Consuela had found her pleasure in scrounging the floor around our seats while I sat enthralled with the movie. It’s obvious she did know a few words of English anyway. As I found her sitting on the floor next to me, picking at a wad of gum under the next seat over, she popped a few bits into her mouth, she chewed up a storm, and garbled out “Eaze Dooble Booble!” It was going to be a long week. Happy New Year to me.

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