Diary Of A Teenage Girl: On The Wry Optimism And Weird Girl In Juno

Diary Of A Teenage Girl: On The Wry Optimism And Weird Girl In Juno

In 2007, screenwriter Diablo Cody changed the game for teenage girls who felt like they needed to see a different kind of character onscreen to connect with. Juno, for her wicked sense of humour and unapologetic sense of self, spoke to endless viewers who finally felt seen. Mary Beth McAndrews reflects on her relationship to the original girl who wasn’t like other girls.

It started with a hamburger phone. This was the phone of one Juno McGuff, a character who became an idol for me, and weird girls everywhere. In fact, the 2007 film Juno is an anthem to the weird girls in high school, a film that is all about embracing what you love and loving it no matter what anyone else says. This film was screenwriter Diablo Cody’s debut film and set her on a path that led to films such as Jennifer’s Body and Young Adult, films that allow their female protagonists make mistakes and be imperfect; they break out of the stereotypical mould for women on the screen. With Juno, Cody marked a shift in teen comedies where young women could be different, confident, and loved.

Juno is a teen comedy about the accidental pregnancy of 16-year-old Juno MacGuff. The film documents her pregnancy, her relationships with family and friends, and what she learns in just nine short months about the adult world. It grapples with the topic of abortion, ultimately seeing Juno give her baby up for adoption to a wealthy couple. While navigating a situation that seems way beyond her maturity level, she never loses her confidence and ability to look at life’s pitfalls through a small smile and sarcastic remark. Layered on top of Cody’s story is a soundtrack full of songs with quirky lyrics about being bees sung over the strumming of a single acoustic guitar, which capture both the titular character’s eccentricities and her heart. 

 “I like my new bunny suit. When I wear it I feel cute.”

At the age of 14, I thought I knew what cool was, and it was something I never could achieve. I thought cool was the colour pink, blonde hair, short skirts, and the ability to talk to boys. It was shirts covered in Aeropostale and Hollister logos. It was knowing how to apply the perfect layer of lip gloss at just the right time. This notion of cool not only came from my own experience but from my steady diet of late 90s and early 00s teen comedies. In those films, such as Bring It On and The Princess Diaries,  the cool girls had a stereotypically feminine aesthetic, the weird girl had to eventually conform to that aesthetic, and then everything would be fine for her. I didn’t know how to accomplish that, and frankly, I didn’t really want to. I wanted to wear bright colours and weird t-shirts for bands like Jimmy Eat World and Tally Hall, or old cartoon characters Ren and Stimpy. I never wanted to surrender what I loved to wear to please anyone. I wanted nothing more than to be different and set myself apart from the “cool” kids. I wanted to brag about the latest weird movie I watched online without worrying about being laughed at. None of this was cool to me, but it was what I loved. So when I saw Juno, I learned about a whole new definition of cool. 

juno (1).png

Juno was cool, to me, because she didn’t care what people thought. She wore old sweater vests and baggie jeans, massive sunglasses, and pantomimed smoking a pipe, all because she just wanted to. She had nothing to prove other than her own sense of self. Cool to Juno was confidence and embracing what you love no matter what. That meant, for her, talking about old horror movies, speaking in movie references, talking about playing the bass, and slurping down massive blue slushies with reckless abandon. She was my introduction to the idea of being a hipster, someone who actively rejects mainstream trends and finds different ways to achieve what it means to be “cool.” In Juno, I saw the confidence I had always pined for, the ability to put on my patchwork jeans and octopus necklace without the fear of being judged. I wanted to embrace my own idea of femininity, and that’s exactly what Juno showed me. Being feminine didn’t just mean pink, boys, and make-up. It was whatever I wanted it to be. Juno gave me a blueprint to understand how to be my own person in high school, the kind of person who was confident as she walked into high school wearing bright coloured corduroys or a skirt over her jeans.

“I am a vampire, I am a vampire!”

The framework for confidence came from Juno’s dry sense of humour; nothing is ever taken too seriously, even if she’s making an appointment to get an abortion. Whether making obscure film references (referencing The Bone Collector on the phone, “No, it’s Morgan Freeman. Got any bones you need collecting?”) or making fun of the wealthy (“Room with a toilet, got it”), no one is safe from Juno’s sharp wit. She often deflects negative comments or any kind of tension with jokes. It is often admirable but sometimes heartbreaking when humour is used as a defense mechanism, such as when Mark, the future adoptive father of Juno’s child, reveals he is leaving his wife. In an attempt to hide her tears from the wife Vanessa, Juno says, “I’m not crying, I’m just allergic to fine home furnishings.” Even in this moment of utter sadness, she can’t help but crack a joke to hide her true feelings. Juno wishes to never betray her hipster girl air, but sometimes she reveals the cracks in this sarcastic veneer. Her sense of humour that makes her so strong also reveals her weaknesses; she is only human after all.

“You’re so nice and you’re so smart. You're such a good friend I have to break your heart.”

Juno is not alone in her winding journey through the mire of growing up. Her best friend Leah shares her desire to laugh through life and never take anything, or anyone, too seriously. Leah is the archetypal popular high school girl, the one seen again and again in teen movies: pastel pink clothes, short skirts, long, pin straight hair that is never frizzy, shiny lip gloss, and cheerleading uniforms. But she subverts the expectations of such a stereotype, as she is not a bully or  unkind in any way. So often in teen comedies from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, the popular girl is the villain. From Disney show Lizzie Maguire to films like A Cinderella Stories, the popular girls are mean with no redeeming qualities. They are vapid and unrelentingly cruel to the weird girl, demeaning her in front of everyone in the name of having some illusion of power. But in Juno, Cody works against such stereotypes in having the weird girl and popular girl be best friends. Leah is Juno’s number one supporter, even and especially in the face of Juno’s pregnancy. She immediately offers to call to make Juno’s abortion appointment, she helps Juno look for adoptive parents in the Pennysaver, and she stands by Juno’s side when Juno tells her parents about her pregnancy. Even as other students stare at Juno’s ever-growing belly, Leah never abandons Juno or worries about what people may think – she is there every step of the way, from ultrasounds to delivery. 


Juno and Leah illustrate the power of female friendship that was not previously seen in coming-of-age films. As described previously, other girls were often seen as the enemy, looking for opportunities to tear others down and have control. In most teen comedies, having control means being one of the popular kids, so how can our weird girl protagonist gain that control? Mean Girls is a prime example of analysing that dynamic and how young women are affected by the power dynamics of high school; either you are a mean girl or you want to be a mean girl. While Mean Girls ultimately has a positive message about breaking that power cycle, other films such as High School Musical and 10 Things I Hate About You still demonise the popular girl and glorify the weird girl. These films helped cultivate an internalised misogyny where female friendships were tenuous, the popular girls hated everyone, and there was no way young women could interact without fighting.  

I was guilty of thinking I should only be friends with boys when I was young; that girls were ‘bitches’ and I was too cool for girly things like the colour pink, putting on makeup, or playing dress-up. Again, I look at other girls through to the stereotypically hyperfeminine lens. There was no middle ground. But with this film, I began to understand what could truly come from strong bonds between young women and the type of support given exclusively by other girls. Juno is not just about one girl growing up, but also about trying to break down the stereotypical stories and representation of young women seen in teen comedies. While Juno glorifies the weird girl, it is not to make her popular or get the hottest guy in school. Instead, it is a film about one girl who is just trying to figure life out as she experiences pregnancy. She is not mercilessly bullied or pitted against other girls. Instead, her friendship with Leah anchors her, keeps her afloat, and reminds her to maintain her sense of humour. 

“You are always trying to keep it real, and I'm in love with how you feel.”

Juno doesn’t just have Leah in her corner; she also has the support of her dad Mac and stepmom Bren. In previous teen movies, the parents are antagonistic, stuffy figures who don’t understand their children or suffocate them with staunch rules. Take Saved from 2004, where a young Catholic girl hides her pregnancy from her mother due to religious beliefs and the fact that she is dating a pastor. This leads to her feeling isolated and scared, with no one to turn to in a time when she needs it the most. Even in earlier films like The Breakfast Club, parents just don’t understand their teenage kids and exist to oppose them. However, in Juno, her parents support her decisions, even if they sometimes roll their eyes at her sarcasm. Instead of disowning Juno or demanding she gets an abortion, Mac dons the ultimate dad uniform with his white New Balances and a baseball cap to take her to meet potential adoptive parents. He wants to protect his daughter more than anything and staunchly sits in her corner to make sure she is not taken advantage of. Instead of saying her stepdaughter isn’t her responsibility, Bren makes a list of prenatal vitamins and care Juno needs to stay healthy. Depicting that supportive parental relationship instead of an oppressive one only strengthens the positivity at Juno’s core. 


This is not about a teen trying to find herself; it is about a teen who is allowed to be herself. Juno is a film about what a strong support system looks like and how truly important it is, particularly to young girls. Juno gets pregnant, but there is no shame in that. Yes, it complicates her s teenage experience and the sex act itself emphasises the awkward and clumsy journey that is being a teen. Instead of focusing on the shame that arises from such an accident, the film focuses on how to positively move forward. And even in moving forward, there were stumbling blocks, awkward conversations, and moments of sadness as Juno realizes that adulthood doesn’t hold all the answers. But, in these moments, Juno is never alone or abandoned. From Leah’s help looking for adoptive parents to Bren yelling at an ultrasound technician, there is no doubt those in Juno’s life love her exactly for who she is.  

“I'm sticking with you, ‘cos I'm made out of glue. Anything that you might do, I'm gonna do too.”

2007 was a turning point for teen comedies. Not only was Juno released, but so was Superbad, which worked to change how male friendships were seen on screen. These two films reframed this comedic subgenre and the importance of creating more nuanced and ultimately relatable teenage characters. Juno, of course, holds particular importance in my heart. Cool is not defined by social status or what brands you wear, but about how confident you are in your choices. That is something that has stuck with me well into adulthood.

Juno paved the way for films like Booksmart, Eighth Grade, and even Never Rarely Sometimes Always. It was revolutionary in changing how young girls were viewed on-screen and how becoming popular should not be the end goal for all teenagers. Instead, it ushered in an era of teen comedies that looked at teenage characters as individual beings rather than archetypal figures. It’s also a film that never ceases to make me laugh, even in the darkest of times. It helped me find myself and continues to deliver a dose of perspective on what it means to stay true to yourself. There is no need to conform to achieve love or acceptance. Juno wraps you in a hug that smells of orange tic-tacs and lets you know it’s OK to wear skirts over your jeans and chomp down on liquorice rope to the tune of a Kimya Dawson track. 

Mary Beth McAndrews (@mbmcandrews) is freelance writer based in Chicago. She loves all things macabre, and mostly writes about the intersection of horror and gender. She is an editor for Much Ado About Cinema and contributor for Nightmare on Film Street.

READ ME is a platform for female-led writing on film commissioned by Girls on Tops. Louisa Maycock (@louisamaycock) is Commissioning Editor and Ella Kemp (@ella_kemp) is Contributing Editor.

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