Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Juno and suburbia

Ellen and I don't get out to first-run movies much these days, especially now that tickets are $9.75 each. (DVDs free from the library: priceless.) But this week we braved the Chicagoland cold and snow to see Juno. And it was well worth it. We decided to see it because of some positive reviews we'd seen, and Christianity Today listed it as #1 in their top ten movies of 2007. It's been compared favorably with Napoleon Dynamite, so if you liked that movie, you'll probably like Juno.

It was quirky, clever, fun, sweet, romantic, realistic, hopeful and life-affirming. The lead character is delightful and winsome. Every cast member fits his or her role extremely well (though I kept expecting Jennifer Garner's character to catapault into Sydney Bristow combat mode and take out lurking SD-6 agents).

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie takes place in the suburbs of Minneapolis. There are references to Minnesotan cities like Stillwater and Mankato and locations like Ridgedale, a nearby shopping mall sister to my home mall of Southdale. Much of the movie takes place in St. Cloud, which is an hour away but apparently now is almost an outer suburb/exurb to the Twin Cities.

This made me nostalgic for Minnesota, as I have fond memories of my suburban Minnesotan upbringing. I posted a Facebook status about liking Juno and its suburban Minnesotan locale, and a friend commented, "What is the deal with you people from suburban MN? It's like you're all some species of salmon, with an innate desire to return to your ancestral breeding ground." I replied, "What can I say? Minnesota is awesome. I miss it lots, and since I have few occasions to go back and visit, I do so vicariously through the movies."

There are a few implausibilities in the movie (who drinks slushies in Minnesota winters?), such as when characters coincidentally run into each other at the mall. This doesn't seem very likely to me, especially since one character lives in St. Cloud and the other lives an hour away. For all that has been claimed about shopping malls being suburban gathering/meeting places, I don't think they're very conducive to chance meetings with people you know. I think malls are far more prone toward anonymity than community.

The movie also strikes an interesting contrast between old suburbia and new suburbia and the class differences between them. The physical geography of different kinds suburban neighborhoods is also significant. Juno's neighborhood, in old suburbia, is a walkable community, with Juno walking to the corner store and Bleeker's track team running along sidewalks. But Vanessa & Mark's new suburban subdivision, while more affluent with bigger houses and yards, never has anybody walking around or out in the community. Everybody has to drive to and from there.

The movie also made me wonder about implications for youth ministry. I will readily admit to having next to no expertise in this area, but it seems to me that this is a movie that youth groups or families could watch and discuss together. It's not just about teen sexuality or pregnancy issues - it's also about relationships with parents, responsibility and growing up (Juno isn't the only character who has growing up to do), the effects of divorce, and the nature of true love and commitment. It's all there. Lots of good grist for the mill. So check it out. It has been nominated for four Academy Awards, and as far as I'm concerned, Juno should win Best Picture.


Jana said...

This is a fantastic movie. While I's sure the Oscar will go to some sweeping epic (e.g. Atonement, despite its problems), it's much harder to make a brilliant small-scale film about families. Everything there hangs on the performances and the script.

I noticed a couple of the Minnesota connections but not nearly as many as you did. Mostly I was relieved that no one tried to do the Hollywood version of a Minnesota accent, doncha know.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I went to see Juno last night for a Valentine's Date (made even more ironic since my wife is very visibly pregnant), and we were very impressed. Great observation about walkable vs. nonwalkable suburbs. We just moved from a walkable older neighborhood to an almost-but-not-quite-walkable one (it's great as long as you don't mind walking on the shoulder of a busy highway for 200 yards). The scenes of Juno's house made me nostalgic for both our old house here in Kentucky and our old apartment in Vancouver (where a lot of the "Minnesota" scenes were actually filmed).

I was also amused that Mark and Vanessa's subdivision was called "Glacial Valley."

Jimmy D. said...

My wife noticed that every time Juno was seen walking through a crowd (in the hallway at school, on the sidewalk as the boys ran by, etc) she was walking against the flow.