Oscar 2007: Ellen Page in Juno

As the bright and resourceful pregnant teenager Juno, the very young yet already very versatile Ellen Page gives such a dazzling and charismatic performance that she should receive a Best Actress nomination. Page dominates each and every frame of the smartly written serio-comedy “Juno,” Jason Reitman's follow-up to his acclaimed feature debut, “Thank You for Smoking.” No doubt, “Juno” benefits from an ultra-bright, authentic, foul-mouthed dialogue by Diablo Cody, a gifted scribe who seems to know inside out the world of teenagers today, the way they talk, play, dress, court–and get into trouble.

It's hard to think of another film this season that's as totally dependent on one actor as “Juno” is on Page. As she showed in the two-handler revenge drama “Hard Candy,” and in the Sundance indie “American Crime,” Canadian-born Page possesses bravura skills and impressive dramatic and comedic range. Short and slender, the truly petite Page can effortlessly transform herself from a gamine-like creature to a cool tomboy to a beautiful and vulnerable girl–without any makeup, wardrobe, or props.

Dealing with adolescence pregnancy, “Juno” is a risky film, and I hope the more conservative Academy voters will be receptive to this wonderful “little” movie as well as to Ellen Page's stellar work. Positive response to “Juno,” while traveling the fall festival circuit (Telluride, Toronto), has encouraged distributor Fox Searchlight to release the film on December 14, a time usually reserved for “Oscar-caliber” contenders. While “Juno” may not be an obvious contender for the Best Picture Oscarcomedies seldom are–four performers deserve serious Oscar considerations: Page as Best Actress, J.K. Simmons, who plays Page's father, as Supporting Actor, and both Jennifer Garner and Allison Janney as Supporting Actresses.

If Page receives Best Actress nomination, she will become one of the youngest actresses to be ever recognized by the Acting Branch in a lead role, joining the ranks of Keira Knightley, who was only 22, when she was nominated for “Pride & Prejudice,” in 2005.

Incidentally, the frontrunners in this year's Best Actress Oscar contest are foreign thespians, or at least no-American. As of November, the strongest contenders are the French Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in the musical biopic, “La Vie en Rose,” Brit Julie Christie, as a longtime married woman inflicted with Alzheimer's in “Away from Her” (a Canadian film helmed by Sarah Polley), Keira Knightly in the British period melodrama, “Atonement,” directed by Joe Wright (who also made “Pride & Prejudice”)and Ellen Page, who's Canadian.

As the title character June MacGuff, named after Zeus' wife, Page plays a 16-year-old high-schooler who gets knocked up (she says “sex was pre-meditated but not the pregnancy) by classmate Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, last seen in the comedy “Super Bad”). A precocious, ultra-bright girl, Juno lives with her working-class dad Mac (Simmons), step-mom Brenda (Janney), and the latter's young daughter.

Juno observes with forlorn looks how Bleeker jogs with his buddies in the same yellow and purple uniform (yellow shorts get a good mileage and some sexually frank remarks in the picture). Things change, when Juno finds out about a planned weekend trip by Bleeker and company with another female classmate. Despite claiming to be cool, always reasonable and in control, the event arouses her jealousy and wrath, and she throws a feat in front of the utterly bewildered Bleeker.

Page carries the entire film on with her frail frame, bright and alert eyes, and mostly big, fast mouth! In the hands of another actress, Juno might not have been as likable and sympathetic character. Page, who began acting as a child, fulfills the promise she had shown in the intense two-handler “Hard Candy,” asserting herself as one of the leading, most versatile actresses of her cohort, who can handle tons of dialogue with poise and style.

The film is saved from glibness by its new type of protag–call it postmodern heroine. Juno is clever, self-possessed, and self-contained, always knowing what to do and seldom losing her temper. Hence, initially, upon meeting the highly emotional and excitable adoptive parents, the Lorings (played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), Juno just says: “Please, cant we just kick it old school I could just put the baby in a basket and send it your way. You know, like Moses in the reeds.

Rest of the saga, as I pointed out in my length review, goes on to detail in a poignant and humorous way the effects of Juno's pregnancy on her changing identity as well as on all the characters surrounding her.

Who's Ellen Page

A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Page has established a name for herself as one of the busiest young actors. At the age of 10, Ellen began her career on the award-winning television movie Pit Pony and received a Gemini nomination for Best Performance in a Childrens Program and a Young Artist Awards nomination for Best Performance in a TV Drama Series Leading Actress for her role as Maggie MacLean.

Her next role was “Love That Boy,” followed by the role of Joanie in “Marion Bridge,” winner of the Best Canadian First Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival. The part won Ellen an ACTRA Maritimes Award for Outstanding Female Performance for her performance. Ellen has also appeared in the cult hit TV series Trailer Park Boys. Ellen recently played the role of Lilith in the first season of ReGenesis, a one-hour drama for TMN/Movie Central for which she won a Gemini award for her performance.

Ellen also starred in “Mrs. Ashboros Cat,” a cable feature for The Movie Network and for which again had won a Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Children's' or Youth Program or Series.

In 2003, Ellen played the lead in Alison Murrays “Mouth to Mouth,” which was shot in Europe and released in the U.S. in 2006. Also in 2003, Ellen starred as part of the ensemble in “Wilby Wonderful,” a film by Daniel MacIvor, which premiered at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival.

In the summer of 2004, she played the lead in “Hard Candy,” an independent feature directed by David Slade in which she co-starred with Patrick Wilson (Angels in America). The movie was screened and immediately sold to Lions Gate Films at the Sundance Festival in 2005. Though a commercial flop, “Hard Candy” immediately established Page as a major talent to watch.

Ellen was then offered the role of Kitty Pride in the third installment of X-Men in the fall of 2005. After “X3,” Ellen was offered the role of Tracey in Bruce MacDonalds THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS, shot in early 2006. This was followed by another starring role, this time opposite Catherine Keener, in “American Crime,” a powerful, morally problematic story about severe child abuse, written and directed by Tommy OHaver, which has not been released yet.

Ellen also participated in the ensemble cast of the Canadian Classic, “The Stone Angel,” directed by Kari Skogland. The year 2006 ended with yet another starring role opposite Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church in “Smart People.” Upcoming projects include “Jack and Diane” and “Defender,” set to shoot in late 2007 and 2008.