Stories of Unwed Mothers Take to the Big Screen This Sunday, the film Juno, the story of an unmarried teen mother, is up for an Academy Award. The independent film was a success at the box office, as was the summer comedy Knocked Up. Film critic Shawn Edwards talks about whether unwed moms in movies are the next big thing.
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Stories of Unwed Mothers Take to the Big Screen

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Stories of Unwed Mothers Take to the Big Screen

Stories of Unwed Mothers Take to the Big Screen

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. The Oscars are this weekend, and competing for the Best Picture prize along with the crime dramas and epic tales is a comedy about an unwed teenager. It's called "Juno," and it's critical and financial success and that of another film called "Knocked Up" have some observers wondering why unplanned pregnancy is so big on the screen this year - no pun intended.

Is it the next big thing? Joining us to answer that question is Shawn Edwards. He's a film critic at Fox Television in Kansas City and a regular guest to talk about the movies. Hi, Shawn, welcome back.

Mr. SHAWN EDWARDS (Film Critic, Fox Television, Kansas City): Hey, thanks a lot. This is going to be fun.

MARTIN: Well we hope so. So for those of us who haven't seen "Juno," tell us what happens?

Mr. EDWARDS: Well, basically, "Juno" is about a 16-year-old girl played by Ellen Page, who she's discovering herself and exploring her sexuality. She ends up getting pregnant unexpectedly. It wasn't planned, of course, she's in high school. And then she's faced with this big situation, this decision she must make.

MARTIN: Let's play a short clip.

(Soundbite of movie, "Juno")

Ms. ELLEN PAGE (Actor): (as Juno) I'm pregnant.

Ms. ALLISON JANNEY (Actor): (as Brenda) Oh, God.

Ms. PAGE: (as Juno) I'm going to give it up for adoption, and I already found the perfect couple. They're going to pay for the medical expenses and everything, and in, what, 30 or odd weeks, we can just pretend that this never happened.

MARTIN: Now Shawn, this is funny.

Mr. EDWARDS: It is.

MARTIN: The movie is very funny, but it's not funny. I mean, if you think about if this were your kid, you would not be laughing. Right?

Mr. EDWARDS: No, I wouldn't be laughing, but…

MARTIN: But what is it about this film that is so appealing?

Mr. EDWARDS: Okay, number one, the reason why this film is so good is the writing. The writing's very clever - in my opinion, at times, a little too clever, but I think that's what adds to the entertainment value. I mean, you fall in love with the main character, which is Juno, played by Ellen Page, and you totally sympathize with her in her situation because she is so likeable. She's a terrific character on screen. She's got a great personality, and she does a great job in the role.

MARTIN: There's another film that was a big hit this summer - it wasn't nominated for an award, but…

Mr. EDWARDS: Should've been.

MARTIN: Really? Okay, and I think we're talking about the same film. We're talking about "Knocked Up." It stars Katherine Heigl. Shawn, why don't you set it up for us? What's the short - sort of the premise of this film?

Mr. EDWARDS: Katherine Heigl, she's an up-and-coming entertainment-television reporter. She celebrates getting a big, new job on the E! television network. She goes out to a club, unexpectedly meets a guy she doesn't know, has a random sexual encounter and oops, uh-oh, finds out she's pregnant.

MARTIN: Okay, and here's a short clip.

(Soundbite of film, "Knocked Up")

Ms. KATHERINE HEIGL (Actor): (as Alison Scott) I've decided to keep the baby. I'm keeping it.

Mr. SETH ROGEN (Actor): (as Ben Stone) Oh.

Ms. HEIGL: (as Scott) Yeah, so that's - that's what's happening with that.

Mr. ROGEN: (as Stone) Good. That's good. That's what I was hoping you'd do. So - awesome.

Ms. HEIGL: (as Scott) Yeah, yeah it is good.

Mr. ROGEN: (as Stone) Okay, I know we didn't plan this, and, you know, neither of us really thought it was going to happen. But, you know, I know my job is to just support you in whatever it is you want to do, and I'm on board. Yay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So that's Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen sharing the news of the impending arrival. Do you think - and I'm asking you to speculate - that these movies would have been as successful as they have been if the heroes, protagonists, were not lovely young white women?

Mr. EDWARDS: Well, number one, the movies wouldn't have gotten made. There's not a studio on the planet that would make "Jaquita(ph)." They'll make "Juno," but they won't make "Jaquita." And that's also part of the appeal is yeah, Juno's a 16-year-old white suburban girl, and, you know, to most people it's sort of like oops, she made a mistake, but she's cute. Everything's going to be all right, and she's going to ride off into the sunset and have a wonderful family.

Sort of the same thing with "Knocked Up." I mean, if the Katherine Heigl character was, say Gabrielle Union, I don't think it would work in the same way because there's that stereotypical viewpoint that African-American women automatically have children out of wedlock in the first place. This isn't anything new for them. This happens all the time.

If there were a movie called "Jaquita," the first they would say is oh ,no, here we go again. Here's another single-parent mom in the hood. What's she going to do, go on welfare? She's not going to be able to take care of her kid. See, they don't know how to raise their kids. They don't know what to do. They're not fiscally responsible.

MARTIN: So it wouldn't be funny.

Mr. EDWARDS: No. Well, number one, it wouldn't get made. Number two, it wouldn't be funny.

MARTIN: Actually, one other thing I wanted to ask you. This is not a statement of values in any particular direction, but it is curious that abortion doesn't seem to be discussed as an option in either case, really, even though both of these women presumably have the means to make that choice.

Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah, Hollywood…

MARTIN: I'm just curious why that is.

Mr. EDWARDS: Hollywood is afraid of that subject. They will touch on it lightly in some movies, but there's never been a full-blown feature film that dealt with the issue of abortion. I mean, it comes up, but it's still sort of that taboo subject matter that Hollywood refuses to tackle in a realistic way, and I think that "Juno" and "Knocked Up" owe their success to the fact that that was sort of avoided.

MARTIN: Finally, I don't know if you mind if I ask you this. How do you react to these films as a man? The male partners of these women are kind of dufuses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm just wondering how - you know, the women are clearly the heroes of this story. How do you react to these, as a man?

Mr. EDWARDS: As a man, and…

MARTIN: Speaking for all men.

Mr. EDWARDS: I don't want to speak for all men, but I will speak for guys who have experienced that unplanned pregnancy like myself, because I have a nine-year-old, and it was not planned by any means. But, I mean, in terms of a comedy, yes, the guys are dufuses. But I would love to see a more serious film about this issue to where you really deal with the realistic elements of what it takes to raise a child, and we really have never seen - you know, I would love to see, you know, a young African-American couple or a young Hispanic couple dealing with this issue. We just haven't seen it. But you know, in terms of a comedy, it's funny. They're poking fun at us guys, and it's okay.

MARTIN: Okay. Shawn Edwards is a film critic at Fox Television in Kansas City. He joined us from KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. Shawn, thanks so much.

Mr. EDWARDS: Oh, thank you. Always a pleasure.

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