Autumn. We see a young girl, Juno, standing in her yard, drinking a large gallon of orange juice out of the container and looking at a recliner chair. “It started with a chair,” she tells us in voiceover. A flashback shows her kissing a boy and beginning to have sex with him. Juno is jolted out of her memory of the sex by the barking of a dog named Banana. She takes another sip of the orange juice and looks at the chair. We see her walking down the street as the credits roll. Juno arrives at a drugstore where she picks up a pregnancy test. The clerk at the counter taunts her for taking another pregnancy test as she insists to him that she thinks the first test was defective. The clerk notes that this is the third pregnancy test she’s taken that day and therefore she must be pregnant. Juno takes the key to the bathroom and goes to take the pregnancy test.
She takes the test, then goes up to the front desk to pay for the test. It comes back with a plus sign, which means she is definitely pregnant. She leaves the drugstore, dejected, and walks towards home, past single-file lines of cross country runners. On her way home, she fashions a noose out of a long piece of licorice and experiments with what it would feel like to hang herself, before biting through the licorice rope instead. We see details of Juno’s room—strange baby dolls, quirky ornaments, comic style posters, and a telephone made to look like a hamburger. Juno nervously dials the number of her best friend, Leah. She tells Leah that she is pregnant with “Bleeker’s" baby and Leah sits up in bed, shocked and disturbed at the news. Leah asks which women’s clinic Juno is going to go to, and offers to call for her. Juno says she’ll call them, but that she needs Leah’s help with something else.
The scene shifts and we see the two girls carrying the reclining chair that Juno had sex in when she got pregnant. They put the chair in the back of an SUV and Juno tells Leah that she was planning to have sex with Bleeker, but that she didn’t imagine she’d get pregnant. When Leah asks Juno when she knew she wanted to have sex with Bleeker, she tells her that she’s known since a year ago in Spanish class. “You love him,” Leah accuses Juno, but Juno deflects. We see a montage of Bleeker getting ready for school, putting on tube socks and wrist bands, and heating up a microwave snack. As he comes out of his house, Juno is sitting on his lawn in the armchair. After engaging in some banter, Juno tells Bleeker she’s pregnant. He seems shocked, and asks what she plans to do about it. At first, she tells him that she plans to just “nip it in the bud,” suggesting she plans to have an abortion, which he says is fine with him. She leaves and goes to school.
Juno navigates a crowded hallway and goes to her locker. When her book falls on the ground in a mess, a group of boys walks by and one of them meanly says, “Your book fell apart…must’ve looked at your face.” In voiceover, Juno narrates, “The funny thing is that Steve Rendazo secretly wants me. Jocks like him always want freaky girls. Girls with horn-rimmed glasses and vegan footwear and Goth makeup. Girls who play the cello and wear Converse All-Stars and want to be children’s librarians when they grow up. Oh yeah, jocks totally eat that shit up. They just won’t admit it because they’re supposed to be into perfect cheerleaders like Leah, who, incidentally, is into teachers.” Over this monologue we see images of the kind of geeky girl that jocks secretly lust after. We then see Juno’s friend, Leah, talking flirtatiously to a much older teacher.
In science class, a teacher tells students to pair up with their lab partners. Juno enters; she is apparently Bleeker’s lab partner and they are going to work with another boy at the table. He tells her that she can copy his work and she apologizes for being a “deadbeat lab partner.” He tells her not to worry about it, insisting, “I think you definitely bring something to the table.” A girl walks up to their table to join them, but warns them that she has menstrual cramps and so cannot participate in the lab. She and the other boy begin arguing, and Bleeker awkwardly offers to set up the apparatus.
The scene shifts and we see Juno calling a women’s health clinic called “Women Now.” When she gets through, she tells the receptionist that she’s looking to “procure a hasty abortion.” Juno rolls her eyes when the receptionist asks her how long she’s been “sexually active,” resenting the term, and we see for a moment a flashback of her sexual encounter with Bleeker. We then see Juno’s father getting a beer from the fridge and complaining about work to the family. In voiceover, Juno tells us that he used to be in the army and is now an “HVAC specialist,” that he divorced Juno’s mother when Juno was 5 years old, and that now her mother lives on a reservation with her new family. We then see Juno’s stepmother, Bren, who owns a nail salon and is “completely obsessed with dogs.”
Over dinner, Juno’s dad asks about her moving the furniture onto the lawn and about why she’s been acting so weird. Bren asks Juno if she threw up in her urn, and we see a flashback of Juno throwing up in an urn. “I would never barf in your urn, Brenda,” Juno tells her. The scene shifts and we see Juno approaching the women’s health clinic, where a classmate of hers, Su-Chin, is outside protesting abortion. Juno says hello and makes smalltalk about school. Juno relates an embarrassing anecdote about one of their classmates, but Su-Chin correctly realizes that Juno is talking about herself. Embarrassed, Juno goes into the clinic, as Su-Chin yells to her “Your baby probably has a beating heart by now.” Juno ignores her until Su-Chin tells her that the baby has fingernails. This stops Juno short: “Fingernails, really?” She goes into the clinic.
Inside, a punk-y looking girl plays a gameboy at the front desk, and without looking up at Juno, says, “Welcome to Women Now, where women are trusted friends. Please put your hands where I can see them and surrender any bombs.” Juno gives her her name and fills out a form, as the receptionist offers her a free boysenberry condom. Juno declines and goes to fill out her paperwork in the waiting room. She looks around and begins noticing everyone in the clinic’s fingernails. Suddenly, we see her leaving the abortion clinic; she has taken Su-Chin’s urging to heart and decided not to get an abortion. Seeing her leave, Su-Chin yells, “God appreciates your miracle!”
From the start, the tone of the film is quite lighthearted, if darkly comic. The premise—a high school girl who accidentally gets pregnant—is introduced within minutes of the film beginning, and we are immediately aligned with the perspective of the girl. While the stakes of the scenario are very serious, the film’s script has a lighthearted quality that keeps it from getting too dramatic. This is evidenced in the way that Juno characterizes the chair in which she had sex with her boyfriend, the way she talks to her family dog (as though it were a human), and her contentious rapport with the nerdy man who sells her the pregnancy tests at the drugstore. When she finds out once and for all that she’s pregnant, Juno makes what appears to be a noose and plays at hanging herself; however, the noose is made out of candy, and she soon decides to eat it rather than use it to commit suicide. The image of the candy noose is a perfect encapsulation of the tonal dissonances in the film itself; matters that appear quite serious and dire are treated with a playful lightness.
The lightness of the tone is also aided by its visual style and soundtrack. The first text that we see on the screen is the word “Autumn” to signify the time of year, and it is written in block lettering, shaded as though it were scrawled in the notebook of a high schooler. The font of the credits is in the same playful handwriting, and as we watch Juno walk down the street, she turns into a sketch herself, a pencil outline of herself. These visual cues signal that the film has a whimsical tone, and that it is about high schoolers. Additionally, the music on the soundtrack has a more lighthearted tone, which cues to the viewer that the film is looking at serious issues with a more playful perspective. As Juno walks home from the drugstore, disappointed at the results of her pregnancy test, the indie band The Moldy Peaches plays, their quaint lyrics and the childlike voice of the singer underscoring Juno’s darker mood. Even in the darker moments, sweetness and innocence still shine through.
The film very much aligns the viewer with the high school characters in the film. In fact, there is a real divide between the adult world and the kid world, a divide which Juno seems to resent. This is typified in the narration she gives about the ways that adults toss around the term “sexually active.” She rolls her eyes at the woman at “Women Now”’s use of the term, and we see an image of a sexual education teacher putting a condom on a banana in a class, as Juno confides in the audience about how little adults seem to “get it.” Juno herself is wise beyond her years. While she has gotten herself into a messy situation, she approaches it with a self-assuredness and calm that is unusual for the circumstances. The film seeks to show a world in which high schoolers are not nearly as clueless as adults imagine them to be, in which they may even be wiser about adult issues. In the beginning of the film, adulthood is a stage of life that Juno seems to associate with a certain amount of alienation and stilted cluelessness.
Even the issues of teen pregnancy and abortion are treated with an exceedingly light touch in the film. Juno goes to “Women Now” for an abortion, where she encounters a classmate, Su-Chin, the sole protestor outside the clinic. While one might expect there to be a contentious and heated interaction between the teenaged girl going in for an abortion and the classmate outside protesting abortion, the two girls innocently make small talk about school. The moment is sweet and comic, and abortion does not come up until Juno is walking towards the clinic. Rather half-heartedly, Su-Chin yells to Juno that her unborn baby already has a heartbeat, then that the baby has fingernails. While the heartbeat does little to discourage Juno, the realization that it has fingernails gives her pause. She stops and considers it, a strange look on her face. In the waiting room, she becomes fixated on the other patients’ fingernails, and decides not to get an abortion after all. A decision which, ideologically and politically, is tense and fraught, becomes a simple one for Juno. While the film does not take a political stand on abortion, Juno decides that the fact that her baby has fingernails is enough reason for her to bring it into the world.
Juno’s glibness and darkly comic tone are emblematic of independent films of the early 2000s. As the independent film market of the 1990s faded and indie films became less lucrative on their own, larger studios began funding smaller pictures. Independent films experienced a resurgence, with the success and popularity of such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Napoleon Dynamite. These films were notable for their quirkier sensibility, their investigation of more “left-of-center” characters, and some riskier subject matter, but with an accessible and “feel-good” tone. Juno fits in perfectly with this milieu, along with several other films about unwanted pregnancies that were also produced in 2007: Waitress and Knocked Up.