What a refreshing year in film! For me, 2007 will be remembered as the year that the prevailing wisdom on abortion handed down to a generation – that abortion is a right, and that even the tiniest bit of ambivalence or discomfort with it is completely un-cool – was successfully challenged in popular culture.
First came “Knocked Up”, the comedy blockbuster from 39-year-old writer-director Judd Apatow. The plot of this film hinges on the decision of an attractive, up-and-coming television personality played by Katherine Heigl, to carry to term her pregnancy created during a one-night-stand with a sharp-witted slacker played by Seth Rogen. While critically acclaimed, and a huge hit at the box office, most of the criticism of the film centered around the quick, non-melodramatic way Apatow dealt with the issue of abortion. Driving pro-abortion folks crazy, Apatow disposes of the issue with two brief scenes: one, in which Rogen’s character sits down with his stoner-slacker friends to discuss the predicament, and the idea of “rhymes with smush-smortion” proposed by one is met with complete revulsion by at least one character, and is quickly dismissed. The other scene involves Heigl’s revulsion at her own mother, who callously recommends she “has it taken care of” during lunch at a high-class restaurant.
In 30-year-old Jason Reitman’s Juno – the follow-up to his overtly libertarian 2005 debut film, Thank You For Smoking– the plot again hinges on the decision of a smart young woman (this one played by Halifax-born-and-raised Ellen Page) choosing to carry to term a pregnancy conceived in a one-night stand. Reitman and writer Diablo Cody take it one step further than Apatow, placing their hip character right inside the sad, disturbing reality of a Planned Parenthood-like “Women’s Health” clinic (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and through humour and humanity, having her decide very quickly that there was something very, very wrong in there.
The significance of these pop-culture moments should not be understated. Within two films that received massive critical praise, huge box-office results, and, most importantly, major buzz within the 18-35 generation, the overwhelming message delivered was: smart, strong young women can decide that abortion is wrong, and still remain completely cool. And the best part is, this message – along with powerful pro-family-values themes in both films – was slipped in completely below the viewing audience’s expectations. Because, in the world of teen and slacker comedies of the past 20 years, the message has been: lots of casual sex is the ultimate goal in life; intercourse has no repercussions; and, as one character says in Juno, pregnancy “is something that happens to our parents and teachers.” By being funnier and smarter than the comedies that came before, the message will certainly have an impact on those previously predisposed to following pro-abortion absolutism.
Thank you to Apatow and Reitman – two sharp young Jewish guys who clearly revel in rejecting the oppression of conventional wisdom.