Ellen Page first came into my awareness in Hard Candy (2005), about a girl who takes on a child predator in a savage manner. My kind of film.
I also got to appreciate her talent while she was in the first season of the Canadian television drama ReGenesis (2005), in which she played the daughter of a cutting edge national health lab.
When her character was rather hastily & clumsily written out of the series -- her father decided he couldn't manage her so hastily shipped her back to her mom -- I wondered what the hell was wrong with those people, as there went a huge portion of the show's appeal. But apparently Ellen had feature film prospects that could not wait for the series to run its full course.
So I already thought she was a brilliant young actress, though I never predicted she'd soon be getting a whopping lot of attention. When her starring role in Juno (2007) shot her to A-list status & international critical acclaim, I certainly felt she deserved the greatest recognition, but it still seems surprising that for once the public's attention has been predicated on excellence of craft rather than the usual dysfunctional tabloid-catching reasons.
After all the hype, I was surprised, for the first twenty minutes or so, how badly Juno resembled a bland educational telefilm with a lot of drivelish comedy mixed in, twenty minutes uplifted only by Ellen's on-screen charisma.
The full first act looks troublingly like some Catholic right-wing argument against abortion & in favor of turning the crisis of pregnant teens into a population of broodmares for upper middleclass couples who can't reproduce, thinly disguised as a variant on Napoleon Dynamite (2004).
While all options are being weighed by Juno the intelligent, vulgar, witty, decent kid who got herself knocked up, the manipulative script closes in on a fascile, uplifting & definitive "answer" to her dilemma -- as she seeks & finds the absolutely perfect couple who can't get pregnant & desparately want to be parents.
But just as the story reaches its smarmy apex of preachiness, the "perfect" couple Mark & Vanessa (Jason Bateman & Jennifer Garner) unravel. They are as broken as couples come, the wife desirous of the divorce, the husband such a dirtbag that he misread's Juno's innocent attachment as his chance to get some underage action.
So, no, not a tale with an easy answer, let alone an axe to grind, but an authentic & very deep tale of choices, disappointments, worries, triumphs & possibilities. And always at the center of it, Ellen as Juno, a character who becomes so real, so thoroughly drawn, so captivating that anything about her would've held my attention, though I do still think the pat tone of the first twenty minutes was the script's one mistake.
As her perfect plan heads off to hell in a handbasket, an increasingly brilliant story does find an even better close, an ending particular to these characters rather than advice for the rest of us, the wicked.
The support roles are brilliantly done as well, especially Michael Cera as the somewhat nerdy, awfully good-natured boyfriend who also has a lot to deal with in this story.
But it's Ellen who holds it together, perhaps the most exciting young actor since Christina Ricci stopped playing only little kids & proved herself a mighty performer as of Buffalo '66 (1998).
And I must say midwest suburban settings & teen dramadies generally are not starting points for films that are uppermost on my list of must-sees. I can watch a horror film even knowing in advance it's going to be pretty lousy, because I'm a horror fan through & through. But I am also a fan of brilliant cinema beautifully acted, no matter the genre, & that is what Juno is.
And as a final aside, having seen Ellen interviewed many times, she's a witty oddball very much like Juno. The equally rich character she created for ReGenesis & the disturbing young femme fatale of Hard Candy were nothing similar to Juno. Which is something great actors, whatever their age, should be able to do, create an array of convincing characters, not just play herself. Yet there's something somehow satisfying in knowing that where Juno is considered, Ellen really is a little like that extradorinary character.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl