Sunday, February 21, 2016

Birthday Take: Ellen Page in "Juno" (2007)

Scene from Juno
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Ellen Page
Born: February 21, 1987 (29 years old)
Nomination: Best Actress - Juno (nominated) as Juno MacGuff

The Take

There are few performers who get forever associated with one role. Among the more divisive is likely Ellen Page, who in 2007 became a breakout star thanks to director Jason Reitman's Juno. Of course, it helps that the same year she starred in X-Men: The Last Stand and was coming off of an impressive boost thanks to Hardy Candy two years prior. Still, she was going to forever be known as Juno thanks to a film that was so strikingly different that one couldn't help but either love it or hate it. More than Little Miss Sunshine previously, it was a film that would define the twee indie movement thanks to its box office success that is reflective of a grass roots promotional technique.

In fact, the film is so rich with gimmicks that it almost sounds like it shouldn't work. First, you have Reitman, the son of a famous director (Ivan Reitman). Then, you have a screenplay by a former stripper named Diablo Cody. Add in child actor prodigy Page and you have the formula for a film birthed from an illogical standpoint. It shouldn't have worked, yet Cody's strange ear for off kilter dialogue resulted in one of the most distinguished coming of age stories of the decade as well as one of the more memorable pregnancy comedies. Beyond its moniker being used as "annoying twee girl," Juno was a film so popular it inspired teenagers to have pregnancy pacts. It was an unfortunate side effect, but it just goes to show how successful the film was in being culturally relevant.

But then there's Page at the middle. She produces one of those performances that you can never forget. For starters, Cody's dialogue is very unnatural, even for teen speak. Page's confidence is also very striking and only makes her strange taste in music and slasher films all the more strange. Still, it raises a question on what film should be. Should it be naturalistic and only have characters who speak proper English? Juno is a film that will likely confuse future audiences simply because of how it's not indicative of its era as much as it's a film out of time. It's about a woman who communicates with style, but rarely ever speaks her mind in a grasping manner. There's heart underneath in the way that teenage love usually has, but it's definitely one for outsiders, or people who like their comedies a little different.

What's more impressive is that in the years to follow, Page was still able to maintain a successful career. She would star in another X-Men movie and even work on the big hit Inception. While she has shifted her attention more towards activism in the LGBT community, notably with Freeheld and her upcoming documentary series Gaycation, she still makes time to star in movies - albeit none as defining as Juno. She likely never will find that role, even if she passionately turns out more captivating projects and proves how little of the obnoxious dialogue that her dissenters thrust upon her. Still, it's not that bad of a role to get labeled with when it's so singular and well written.

Page is definitely one who likes challenging roles. It's hard to really argue that Juno was challenging mostly because of how easy she makes it look. Whether the magic lies in Cody's words or her performance is speculative. However, it's one that elevated her into another field that has offered her more opportunities. What's strange is that she hasn't entirely wasted them, despite very similar roles in films like Smart People. She has outgrown the status and one can hope that she's on the cusp of finding a role in her later adulthood that will not strip her of being "Juno," but of serving as a dual character to best be remembered for.

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