I don’t care what people say anymore. Junior (1994), directed by Ivan Reitman, the Ghostbusters guy, is a masterpiece. I initially watched it because a lot of people were clowning it and the premise was absolutely ridiculous beyond belief. “Arnold Schwarzenegger is a scientist who implants an embryo and gives birth,” was of course a selling point for me. I’m a B-movie fanatic, so I was excited to sit down and relish in mediocrity. I was redirected to a clip on YouTube, the notorious I’m gonna be a momma too! moment when Larry first tells his ex-wife that Alex is pregnant and she faints so very iconically. I then fell down the rabbit hole of repeatedly watching the library scene, with Schwarzenegger’s subpar drawl of Is there a baby here? repeatedly giving me the giggles. I always was attracted to the absurd, and this definitely was scratching that itch. I did find that there was something about this film and its odd innocence that puzzled me greatly, and I needed to find out more.
I was able to come to the conclusion that this film, although definitely not good or well-made in so many ways, is a fascinating commentary on queer politics and identity. We never see an openly queer person, but every facet of queer identity is presented through a heterosexual gaze and heterosexual format. Let me explain.
I am soon to partake in the sinful yet illustrious act of partially spoiling a film. You have been warned.
Junior tells the story of Dr. Alex Hesse, played by, you guessed it, Arnold Schwarzenegger—a calculating, brilliant scientist who is in the process of developing a new drug, Expectane, which seeks to prevent miscarriage and promote a healthy pregnancy. He works alongside Dr. Larry Arbogast, played by Danny DeVito, a rather crude gynecologist/OBGYN with a clingy ex-wife impregnated by someone loosely affiliated with Aerosmith.
Despite conducting expensive testing on chimps and having success doing so, Expectane is not approved by the FDA, as it would require highly invasive human experimentation. Schwarzenegger, I mean Hesse, distraught, flees to the airport to return to Austria, before being stopped by a perv gynecologist, Frank Reynolds, who convinces him that he should carry the fetus and continue the experiment. So, Arbogast impregnates Hesse using Hesse’s sperm and an egg from another researcher’s “dairy section.” And so, something beautiful begins anew in the two men’s “very professional” relationship, as the embryo is placed in the peritoneal cavity. Hesse, over time, becomes more and more hormonal and attached to the fetus, and refuses to abort it after the testing period ends. The mayhem thus begins surrounding this miraculous, politicized pregnancy.
Dr. Alex Hesse, Arnold’s engendering role, is cold, stoic, and seemingly asexual at the beginning of the film: he is focused on logic, production, and product, quite literally. Larry Arbergast, DeVito’s offspring, is this sort of wild enabler, I couldn’t stop thinking about him as Danny Devito’s previous incarnation as Frank from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia! The Aerosmith bit where he throws darts at the band’s poster in his room literally made me cackle like a witch!
Dr. Diana Reddin, played by Emma Thompson, is quite the unusual female supporting lead. She is pretty in somewhat of an unconventional way and is obscenely clumsy. She could fall under the tutelage of a manic pixie but instead graces the screen with her own odd complexities, remarking on her upbringing in Jakarta out of the blue. It was difficult to gauge whether this was the poor writing of a frazzled backstory, or if this actually fit well with her character. Reddin is oddly mysterious, teetering on both the masculine and feminine, not aligning herself explicitly with gendered expectations. She attends the conference in a flattering gown and heels, though her awkward dancing and subsequent phenomenal physics-defying projection of her shoe onto a stranger’s table, and meal in fact, enacts a constant, aggressive rejection of the femininity that is meant to straitjacket her.
Hesse and Arbogast present as a homosexual couple, doing activities together and assuming a domestic life that today is quite recognizable, though in those yester years of the tender 90s they were more prone to ridicule. The film does not, at least in my opinion, take the stance of disgust or raw mockery. The only instance in which they are judged or perceived as homosexual is when Arbergast’s ex-wife observes their behavior and makes mild snide comments. In a complete contrast, Hesse and Reddin present as a lesbian couple when she goes to visit him at the Republicanized prenatal clinic for women with Laura Bush manes. Hesse’s journey into the feminine seems to have found little resistance, as he adapted quite well to the role of just another woman in the prenatal clinic. He fit in very well, and he seemed to be quite comfortable. Those LGBTQ+ themes blew through the roof when Reddin, in a button-up and men’s trousers, came to visit Hesse at the prenatal resort for a romantic rendezvous. How did the straight white boomers who created the film not slip and break their femurs on all these Freudian gems?
Junior is a perfect combination of extreme discomfort, hilarious gags, and beautiful revelations. Through a physical adventure in femininity and an exploration of Hesse’s own relationship to his body, to women, and to their experiences, he grows into an entirely new and objectively better version of himself. This better version, most importantly, involves cultivating a deep connection with the physiological female. Similarly, Reddin is both very pretty and very unconventionally feminine. She is awkward, talkative, spazzy, geeky, and very lovable overall. You root for her until the end. Arbogast is crude, funny, and impulsive, but a total softie. Lastly, you only cast Arnold Schwarzenegger since he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger: a buff Austrian with a weird accent, primed to guide and nurture all Californians.
Literally, Junior is genius boomer trash. If you can suck up the secondhand embarrassment for a cast of wonderful actors pillaging through this ghastly script, you are in for a real treat. Although many do not bother to think about such an odd piece with a critical lens, Junior is worth the time to sit down, laugh, and have fun. Pushing past the discomfort is essential in enjoying this film.