Thursday, June 12, 2008

No Matter What Kind of Pickle: Mac MacGuff from Juno

Note: There is strong language in these film quotes. This is for the Dads in Media Blogathon, hosted by RC of Strange Culture. Also, for new readers, I'm a counseling psychology student currently taking a family therapy course, so don't be surprised if parts of this blog sound like a psychological case study :) This wasn't my intention, but it just leaks out. I hope you enjoy my perspectives.

Honestly, 2007 wasn't such a bad year for fathers in film. At least, in my favorite films of the year. We had Dan in Real Life, a delightful romantic comedy starring Steve Carrell as a widower with three daughters trying to figure out how to balance fatherhood with a new potential love relationship.

Bill Hodnett portrays Glen Hansard's father in the film Once. It's not much of a part, but here's a working class dad who initially seems disinterested in his son's great musical talent, but there's a touching scene near the end of the film when he listens to his son's demo tape.

Guy: [song finishes] Well, what do you think? Do you like it? It's just a demo, you know...
Guy's Dad: It's fucking brilliant.
Guy: Really?
Guy's Dad: Fantastic stuff. That'll be a hit, no question.

Honestly, I think as viewers, we were just as shocked as the son to hear his father's assessment of the demo. As the scene continues, the proud father gives his son money and encourages him to go to Dublin to pursue his dreams. Now, here's a father who likely doesn't say "I love you," often and initially appeared somewhat disengaged, but underneath, he loves his son and is proud of his accomplishments. He may not be the ideal model of a father, but he displays his genuine love and support for his son through his actions.

One of my favorite portrayals of a father from 2007 films was Mac Macguff, played by J.K. Simmons, in Juno. Fathering teenagers is challenging. When daughters reach adolescence, it's common for fathers to detach themselves to a degree. The developing sexuality of a young woman is confusing and threatening to fathers. While young daughters can crawl up on father's knee and father can tickle and wrestle his little girl, these behaviors change when the girl hits puberty. No longer is this style of physical affection appropriate between an adolescent and her father, forcing fathers to renegotiate their interactions with their daughters. Unfortunately this can be a difficult and confusing task, so some fathers will disengage from showing love and affection to their daughter. But in the film Juno, we have a father who has successfully renegotiated his relationship with his teenage daughter, and remains engaged in her life.

Here's another working class father who, as the picture suggests, is a little rough around the edges. But despite his gruffness, this father truly has a heart of gold. There's a endearing innocence to his uncultured nature, made apparent in his interactions with the ultra-polished Vanessa. When she asks the family, "Have you ever felt like you had a special purpose in life?" his quick response is, "Yes, heating and air-conditioning." Whether it's naivety or self-confidence, Mac has a natural ease about him and never pretends to be something he's not.

Mac MacGuff: Whats that thing?
Vanessa Loring: It's a Pilates machine.
Mac MacGuff: What do you make with it?
Vanessa Loring: Oh you don't make anything with it, its for exercise.
Mac MacGuff: Oh. My wife ordered one of those Tony Little Gazelles off the television... I don't know about that guy. He doesn't look right.

And sometimes, he's just that dorky dad who says the things that a teenage daughter would never want her friends to hear.

Mac MacGuff: Hey there, big puffy version of Junebug!

Despite how he's sometimes portrayed as the lame, bumbling father, MacGuff is by no means incompetent in his role as a father to Juno. He's protective, caring, and actively engaged with his teenage daughter, which is displayed in two key scenes. The first is the revelation of Juno's pregnancy. When Juno tells him and his wife of her pregnancy, MacGuff's initial reaction is shock then wanting details. His reaction to the news of the father's identity seems typical for the uncensored, genuine Mac Macguff.

Juno MacGuff: I'm Pregnant.
Bren: Oh, God.
Juno MacGuff: But, uh ah, 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 and what ah 30 or odd weeks we can just pretend that this never happened.
Mac MacGuff: You're pregnant?
Juno MacGuff: I'm sorry. I'm sorry... And if it is any consolation I have heartburn that is radiating in my knee caps and I haven't taken a dump since like Wednesday... morning.
Bren: I didn't even know that you were sexually active.
Juno MacGuff: I, uh...
Mac MacGuff: Who is the kid?
Juno MacGuff: The-the baby? I don't really know much about it other than, I mean, it has fingernails, allegedly.
Bren: Nails, really?
Juno MacGuff: Yeah!
Mac MacGuff: No, I know I mean who's the father, Juno?
Juno MacGuff: Umm... It's Paulie Bleeker.
Mac MacGuff: Paulie Bleeker?
Juno MacGuff: What?
Mac MacGuff: I didn't think he had it in him.
Leah: I know, right?

Despite this final comic comment, Macguff is truly disappointed with his daughter and honestly expresses this to her.

Mac MacGuff: I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.
Juno MacGuff: I don't know what kind of girl I am.

I find a hint of tenderness in this comment. He doesn't yell, he doesn't become angry, he simply speaks from the heart not only his disappointment with her pregnancy, but his doubt of what kind of a daughter Juno is. I think it's the openness of her father that allows Juno to openly express her own doubts of herself. Once Juno leaves the room, Macguff's protective instinct emerges strongly, and, um, coarsely.

Mac MacGuff: Next time I see that Bleeker kid I'm going to punch him in the wiener.

It's almost stereotypical, the father who wants to go beat up the teenage boy who impregnated his daughter. Stereotypical, until his wife remarks that it probably wasn't his idea, and he agrees. In a more appropriate channeling of his protective drive, MacGuff states that he will accompany Juno to meet the potential adoptive parents, because he doesn't want them taking advantage of her. It's clear that he embraces his authority and responsibility to protect his daughter. You have to wonder though, is guilt part of his motivation to be so involved in Juno's adoption process? Does his daughter's pregnancy make him doubt his ability as a father? Sadly, these themes are not explored in this film.

In another key father-daughter scene towards the end of Juno's pregnancy, a confused Juno, "dealing with things beyond [her] maturity level" turns to her father for counsel.

Juno MacGuff: I'm losing my faith in humanity.
Mac MacGuff: Think you can narrow it down for me?
Juno MacGuff: I guess I wonder sometimes if people ever stay together for good.
Mac MacGuff: You mean like couples?
Juno MacGuff: Yeah, like people in love.
Mac MacGuff: Are you having boy troubles? I gotta be honest; I don't much approve of dating in your condition, 'cause well... that's kind of messed up.
Juno MacGuff: Dad, no!
Mac MacGuff: Well, it's kind of skanky. Isn't that what you girls call it? Skanky? Skeevy?
Juno MacGuff: Please stop now.
Mac MacGuff: [persisting] Tore up from the floor up?

MacGuff is concerned for Juno and questions her to find out what's on her mind. Once again, he responds uncensored, and lapses into the awkward dad mode, teasing her about the language of skankiness, perhaps trying to relieve his or Juno's tension in this conversation. But Juno continues, and he responds thoughtfully and sensitively.

Juno MacGuff: Dad, it's not about that. I just need to know if it's possible for two people to stay happy together forever, or at least for a few years.
Mac MacGuff: It's not easy, that's for sure. Now, I may not have the best track record in the world, but I have been with your stepmother for 10 years now and I'm proud to say that we're very happy.
[Juno nods]
Mac MacGuff: In my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person will still think the sun shines out your ass. That's the kind of person that's worth sticking with.
Juno MacGuff: I sort of already have.
Mac MacGuff: Well, of course! Your old D-A-D! You know I'll always be there to love and support you no matter what kind of pickle you're in... Obviously
[nods to her belly]

The last line is meant to be cheesy. The audience knows that Juno isn't talking about her father, and he's being portrayed as the goofy naive dad who hopes that his daughter won't need any man but him. Despite his miscalculations on this matter, his expression of love and support is sincere. He's spent the past 6-8 months loving Juno unconditionally, graciously helping his pregnant daughter.

I'm going to go out on a limb and hypothesize that MacGuff's loving relationship with Juno serves a protective function when she meets Mark Loring, the potential adoptive father who takes an inappropriate interest in Juno. Though Bren warns her, Juno naively spends alone time with this married man, connecting with him over music, movies, and comics. Though Juno doesn't act wisely, I believe her intentions to be innocent. Perhaps since she already has the love and acceptance of her father, she's not seeking those things from Mark. To her, Mark is an enjoyable distraction during a confusing time and because he will be adopting her child, she sees him as "safe." It's clear that Mark becomes inappropriately attached to Juno, though his exact intentions are ambivalent. But when push comes to shove, I strongly believe that Juno would have resisted any romantic or sexual advances toward her. I believe that she is not a girl who can be taken advantage of, and it's obvious throughout the film that she marches to the beat of her own drummer. I believe that part of this quality in Juno comes from her strong relationship with her father. Though her mother had rejected her, he accepts her no matter what, which gives Juno the freedom to make her own decisions and to express herself as a unique individual.

But the question still remains, where was Mac MacGuff when his teenage daughter was having unprotected sex? Wouldn't a truly caring, protective father have been able to prevent this mistake? Did he not monitor her time with boys closely enough? Did he not discuss sex with Juno? Was he not involved? Was he too busy with his heating and air conditioning business, or his new wife and daughter to notice what was going on with Juno? Perhaps he trusted her too much. I believe this last scenario to be most likely. He knew that his daughter was an individual, and that she would not be taken advantage of sexually or pressured into doing something she wanted to do. In his comment, "I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when," he seemed to have placed a lot of confidence in her ability to make wise decisions. Sadly, because of the time frame of the movie, we don't have the full answers to these questions. Without knowing the quality of their father-daughter relationship prior to the pregnancy, we can only speculate about whether or not his actions contributed to her choice to have unprotected sex.

But what we do see in this film is a father's reaction to his daughter's pregnancy - every father's nightmare. He expresses his disappointment without anger or punishment, knowing that the responsibility that Juno now carries is punishment enough for her choice. He offers a protective, caring role and loves and supports her all along the way. He's not perfect, but he rises to the occasion and handles the challenge of his daughter's pregnancy in an admiral way. In this fictional world, Juno is lucky and blessed to have such a father as Mac MacGuff.


RC said...

True stuff...Mac really is the most responsible male father-guy in the group of three father's that are in the film (Paulie, Mac, & Mr. Loring).

Those quotes are great and your analysis is incredible.

You're also right about how that scene in Once is definitly touching...very atypical dadness.

Jose said...

I had the exact same thoughts you did speculating what happened to her dad while she was having sex and stuff.
But overall what bugged me the most about "Juno" is how all people seemed to worry about was the pregnancy.
What if Juno had gotten some STD, were these people so narrow minded that a new person was the biggest of their problems? And don't even get me started about their passive take on her irresponsibility.
With all that said, Simmons can do no bad, his Mac is the stuff iconic movie characters are made of.

if walled in climb up said...

What a thoughtful post!

I have so many responses to what you wrote that I don't have time to express, but one thing that stood out was your question of where Mac Macduff was when Juno was having unprotected sex. I think a child's choices aren't always the parents' fault. A parent can drill their way of thinking into their child's head, and the child may still do the complete opposite despite a good, functional relationship with their parents. I don't think that Juno's choice to have unprotected sex necessarily reflects negatively on Mac. If Mac's responses to and support of Juno's pregnancy are any indicator, I would say it is pretty certain he was a loving, supportive, goofy father before Juno became sexually active. And while I believe it is every parent's role to ensure their child has been taught about sexuality, every child in the public school system has access to additional information through sex ed. classes. This in itself make the kid responsible for their own actions. Granted, there is an issue of parental responsibility in chaperoning their child. I'm sure t is so hard during their child's adolescence for parents to find a good boundary for where they will or will not let their child go. During adolescence, teens need a certain degree of and fight for independence. But keeping a child holed up in their room every day is not the answer to protect them from teen pregnancy. I think in the case of Juno, Mac probably did everything a good father would be expected of doing, and, through no fault of Mac's, Juno made an unfortunate poor decision.

crackers and cheese said...

Jose, in general, when sex is portrayed in media, there's very little reference to any sort of safe sex practices, and even less attention paid to STDs, so it doesn't surprise me that STDs were never mentioned. And though Juno brought up some thoughtful issues, it wasn't meant to be a movie with a message, it's main purpose was to entertain, and if it makes you think about safe sex, and parenting, and love, and family, then great! It definitely did for me.

You're definitely right about the passivity of the characters. Honestly, just about every character except Vanessa seemed rather disconnected from the pregnancy, which is so different from what I've observed when my friends or family members are pregnant. It was almost like everyone was like, "This is an unwanted pregnancy, we're not excited about it, but we're not going to dwell on the bad either. We're just going to keep going with our lives, and in nine months, this will all be over." Everyone treated the pregnancy like an unwelcome, temporary distraction, instead of a life-changing event.

Britt, I think I agree with you. While I do wonder where Mac MacGuff was when Juno was getting pregnant, honestly, it was her choice, and her mistake, no matter how responsible of a father he was. I don't think he had any reason either not to trust her with Bleeker. They'd been friends for a long time, they were in a band together, and everyone saw him as this really safe, nonsexual boy that wasn't any kind of threat.