Saturday, 23 May 2009

Juno And The Restless Virgins

Since I wrote a novel based around sex education, I've tried to
pay attention to other books and movies that do the same. I
reviewed Tom Perrotta's The Abstinence Teacher, which I
thoroughly enjoyed. This time, I'm reviewing Juno, a movie I
enjoyed so much I saw it twice, the first time with my wife, the
second time alone, so I could take a more insightful look at the
story.

Juno is the story of a pregnant teenager who is trying to make
sense of her difficult circumstances. Ellen Page, who plays
Juno, makes the movie. She's not only funny, but she appears
wise without taking things too seriously. Juno is the geeky
guy's best friend, someone you can talk to, jam with, but you'd
forget she was a girl unless she reminded you - and that's how
she gets pregnant. She reminded the cheese on her macaroni,
before he ever knew he was.

I enjoyed Juno because it was different; it was not a formulaic
high school drama of fill-in-the-blank (studs, geeks, misfits,
beauty queens, etc) against the cliques or the teachers. Nor was
the movie a preachy lecture where everyone in one person's life
imposes values and passes sentence. Juno was not held up as a
poster child for teen sex gone wrong. That would have lost the
teen/college audience for sure.

Instead, Juno is a movie that a father and teenage daughter can
watch together, and share laughs at each other's expense after
it ends. Election (1999), which starred Matthew Broderick, and
was based on another Perrotta best-seller, is the only other
high school based movie that comes close to the same
achievement. No surprise; I saw both movies in person and they
played well to all ages.

I could open my old high school yearbook, or anyone else's for
that matter, and probably find one girl like Juno, maybe two,
but certainly no more. She's noted as an oddball, but doesn't
stand out in any special way — except for her wit — and her
untimely pregnancy. During a rare scene in school, pregnant Juno
attracts silence and stares as the crowds allow her to pass
undisturbed, although it is clear that she has been branded a
marked woman.

But Juno is remarkably poised for her age; she's thought
through what she wants to do — put the baby up for adoption -
and she's handling the pain with surprising humor. Juno is the
bravest girl in school, and she's considered the freak. It's
unclear why that happens; Juno's boyfriend/best friend's mother
was the only person who had given Juno a reputation. Maybe
Juno's classmates are afraid, not for her, but themselves.

Maybe the movie's writer's have left that for us to figure out.


It's good meat for a father-daughter talk after the movie's
over.

After seeing Juno for the second time, I picked up a book,
Restless Virgins, a non-fiction story about teenage hook-ups at
a nationally respected New England prep school. This was a rare
opportunity to take a back-to-back look at a movie and book
along similar themes.

The authors of Restless Virgins, Abigail Jones and Marissa
Miley, both graduates of the school, told a true story that
appeared to be more like the formulaic high school movies: take
the social cliques of the school, peer pressures, and mix them
in with a scandal reminiscent of the Duke Lacrosse case. Only
this time, the boys are expelled while the girl's reputation is
embarrassingly showcased in court. The school is spared no
embarrassment as well; a headmaster is forced to concede that
hooking up has been par for the course for some time.

I understand why a publisher took on Restless Virgins; the
school is one of the nation's elite and its' students considered
among the best of the best at gaining admission to the most
selective colleges. We expect to be surprised when they behave
just like "public school kids" who lack the same advantages. We
expect them to abide by a code of conduct, inside and outside
school, for the good of the institution, and for the sake of
tradition.

But Restless Virgins showed me that the elite are just like
anyone else, except that they can afford better lawyers. All
high schools, public or private have their cliques and they
change, while the traditions that should probably die take a
long time to go away. This came out quite strongly in Virgins.
The students were ready to ignore, or let go of the school's
past, while the administrators were asleep at the switch,
incapable of cleaning up the mess.

Unlike Juno, there were no pregnant young women in Restless
Virgins. But Juno MacGuff didn't see sex as a game, or something
she had to do, but something she wanted to do, with a guy she
really cared about. The fictional Juno was far more mature, and
also far more interesting, than the real-life cast in Restless
Virgins.


About The Author: Stuart Nachbar has been involved with
education politics, policy and technology as a student, urban
planner, government affairs manager, software executive, and now
as author of The Sex Ed Chronicles. Visit his blog,
http://www.educatedquest.com