TIFF Best of the Fest: Actress Ellen Page
by Alex Billington
September 23, 2007
After screening 20 movies at a film festival you start to notice patterns: styles, production techniques, story trends, and even actors popping up in multiple movies. At the Toronto Film Festival this year there was one actress in particular who stood out in two of the fest's greatest, and certainly most unique, films: Juno and The Tracey Fragments. Her name: Ellen Page, the 20-year-old acting sensation who scared the living crap out of all men in Hard Candy and later stole the heart of Bobby "Iceman" Drake in X-Men 3 as Kitty Pryde. If there's any one actor who deserves to be mentioned out of everyone at the Toronto Film Fest, it's her.
In Juno she plays a 16-year-old high school student who accidentally gets knocked up, but not in a Judd Apatow way. The boy she sleeps with is more of her best friend and her parents are an eclectic combination not without their own relationship problems. Ellen's character of Juno uses more slang than most people even know exist and yet she instantly becomes the perfect epitome of a 16-year-old high school girl in today's day and age. She brings a certain charm and charisma to the character that, while she doesn't have a care in the world about her "bun in the oven," does have an outlook on life that only a teenager could understand, all of which builds most of the story.
Given the immense amount of praise the film, and specifically Ellen Page, has received so far (check out the two quotes below), when it hits theaters it will certainly become one of the most memorable performances of the year, if not of the decade. The film really needed a strong actress to fill the shoes of the character of Juno (its even titled Juno) and Ellen Page does it perfectly. Although in person her beauty melts your heart, in Juno she's not cast to look good, she's cast to act great. For once it's refreshing to see an actor on screen working both her physical and emotional talent to the max and not just flaunting her looks alone.
"The performances are all great -- Page shows she can carry a film from start to finish on her petite shoulders, commanding the screen in every scene and making Juno imminently likable."
-Kim Voynar at Cinematical
It's not just me or some petty "online critics" who are praising Ellen in Juno - almost everyone who saw it absolutely loved it!
"Film's ace in the hole, however, is Page, whose great promise indicated in 'Hard Candy' is more than confirmed by her winning performance here. Lovely young thesp handles the reams of dialogue with poise and aplomb."
-Todd McCarthy at Variety
The Tracey Fragments is a vastly different film, far more experimental and independent, yet Ellen Page plays the main character again: 15-year-old Tracey Berkowitz. This time she's a loner high school girl who lives with an off-the-wall family that includes a young brother who she taught to act like a dog: he walks on all fours and only barks, never talks. When her brother disappears she goes out around the small town alone and without winter clothes before an impending blizzard looking for him. From there we're taken through her insanely bizarre mind in a series of fragmented boxes on the screen, which depict everything from reality to her imagination.
It's in The Tracey Fragments that I fell in love with Ellen Page yet again up in Toronto. I saw this a couple of days after Juno and it was here that I realized she is the spotlight of the fest. There's such a unique personality and identifiable quality to her acting and to her character. Even though X-Men 3 probably saw the least of it, thanks more to Brett Ratner's ineptitude than Ellen Page's acting, you can find such a genuine realism in all of her roles. She's not a glossy, Photoshopped version of someone you'd never find in the real world, she's always human yet exceptionally distinct.
Beyond her capabilities as actor, Ellen Page has such a wonderfully approachable attitude in person that it's treacherous because she'll pull you in. Just look into her eyes in the photo at the top and maybe you'll start to understand the feeling I have when I met her in person. It's not at all that she convinced me to praise her work, it's that I realized on my own that someone this gifted on screen and also this extraordinary in person is rare in Hollywood. The least we can do is go out to the theaters and see her in Juno and The Tracey Fragments and recognize her excellence.
I've also got to point out that although she does a fine job of portraying high schoolers who are four years younger than she actually is, I hope someday soon she's given a role where her character's age is the same as hers or older. I can imagine there's that perfect role as someone in the early-to-mid-twenties that's begging for Ellen Page. I hope filmmakers out there are quickly recognizing her talents and realizing her potential beyond playing 16-year-old girls.
If there are those of you who are always out there looking for the finest performances in cinema, then keep an eye out for Ellen Page. Make it an effort to try and at least see Juno and maybe The Tracey Fragments if it ever comes by your area (which is unlikely given it's very "film fest-like" feeling). What you'll find from Ellen's performance is something that will make you smile in the end, possibly laugh, cry, and maybe even cheer, but at least you'll walk away with a feeling that you've experienced a performance by one of the greatest young actors around.
Ellen also stars as the abused girl in the real-life story in An American Crime that debuted at Sundance this year. I wasn't too fond of the film, it was a very dry, brutal, and anti-climatic drama. The photo at the top comes courtesy of Jen Yamato at Rotten Tomatoes.