My current Top 5

My current Top 5

6/26/2010

Best Actress 2007: Ellen Page in "Juno"

Ellen Page received her first Oscar nomination for her performance in the successful and popular comedy Juno. In this, Ellen played the title character Juno McGuff – a constantly wise-cracking, sarcastic and precocious 16-year old high-school student who gets pregnant after her first time with her boyfriend.

A 16-year old knocked-up high-school girl is certainly not the kind of character one would expect among the Best Actress line-up but there is no reason to dismiss this performance when comparing it to the usual dramatic heavyweights in this category. Ellen Page gives a strong and very confident performance that ends up much more mature and detailed than one would except after the playful and childish title sequence.

The sad truth is that the Oscar-winning screenplay is actually the weakest point of the movie. Just like a lot of Neil-Simon-pictures, one can’t help but constantly wonder ‘Who talks like that?´. But unlike Neil-Simon-pictures, where everybody is constantly throwing around supposedly witty bonmots, the burden in Juno is put solely on the small shoulders of Ellen Page. And it’s this task that is both working for and against her.

In the constant fight script vs. actors, Ellen Page carries home a victory round after round as she is able to use Diablo Cody’s forced one-liners and unnecessary jokes (Why Morgan Freeman?) and make them sound as natural as humanly possible. She made the wise decision to not fight against or try to over-or under-emphasize them but instead completely embraced all the qualities of the script, may they be good or bad, and create Juno as a mix of the script’s guidelines and her own instincts. While the script achieves something that is certainly rarely, namely over-the-top dialogue, Ellen Page wonderfully underplays the delivery of those lines. How many other young actresses would have turned Juno into an annoying collection of tics and proud outsider-status? Ellen Page instead made all of Juno’s constant remarks such a natural thing while playing her with a mix of the decisive assuredness of a girl years ahead of her age and a young girl who is using her open-mouthed and sassy nature as a constant mechanism of self-protection. In a performance that could have so easily been a disaster, Ellen Page is a real success thanks to never leaving the narrow frame of the movie and the script. Instead of trying to add too much depth to a young girl who doesn’t possess it yet or going the straight comedy route, Ellen Page found exactly the right balance in which she could create a Juno who is more than just a never-ending recollection of feisty comments but also fulfills the tasks that she is given in the context of the story.

Ellen Page completely made Juno her own and uses her appealing personality that is able to make her loveable despite being such a nag sometimes. As mentioned before, the fact that she was able to make Juno so natural and believable is already a little miracle that deserves high praise. What’s even more is the fact that Ellen Page was also able to make Juno…funny. The constant jokes and remarks that the script offers are almost never as funny as they would like to be but Ellen Page's sarcastic, dry and most importantly totally earnest delivery of them actually turns them into amusing moments. That way she makes sure that Juno is actually a comedy

The most important weapon in Juno’s arsenal, next to her sarcasm, is her ability to simply not care what other people might think of her. Ellen Page lets Juno burst on the screen and behave and talk just like what she is: a 16-year old girl who tries her best not to think about what’s ahead but who, despite her appearance that so desperately tries to be cool, is much more insecure than she would like to admit. Ellen Page is able to add an amount of depth to Juno that is exactly right for the style of the movie – not too much to destroy the careful construction of humor and not too little to make Juno a banal and one-dimensional plot-device. In just a few brief and wordless moments, Ellen Page's face demonstrates how Juno, up to that point so sure of herself and apparently shaken by nothing, changes her mind as she sits in the waiting room of a clinic, preparing herself for the abortion – but then decides to have the child. It’s the perfect portrayal of a teenager who actually can’t handle such a big decision. She finally becomes aware that this is all too much for her to handle and so she decides to postpone the difficulties of her pregnancy – even if that means having the baby. And of course, the fact that a friend of hers protested outside the clinic and told her that her unborn child already had fingernails surely influenced her, too. Juno may try to appear cool and casual, but she is not made out of stone.

Even though Juno carries her heart on her tongue and never stops from saying what’s on her mind, Ellen Page is able to add a little more mystery to her than expected. When she sees Vanessa, one half of the adoptive parents she has decided on, in a mall, playing with a little child, it’s impossible to know what Juno could be thinking: is she happy that she made the right choice for the adoptive parents as Vanessa is so full of love? Does she see herself in Vanessa and thinks about how great it must be to have a little child to take care off?

Ellen Page also doesn’t make the same mistake as Diablo Cody’s script: underestimate the supporting players. While they remain mostly paper-thin and clichéd, all the parts are played by talented actors who know how to shine in even the most banal part. So, Ellen Page never tries to put Juno into the spotlight but she instead is always aware when each actor has his/her moment or when Juno should be more in line with the rest of the characters. While the movie makers want to make sure that Ellen Page is the sun in the universe of Juno, Ellen Page recognizes that it’s actually the unborn child around which everything circles.

Ellen’s best chemistry is with co-star Jason Bateman who plays the future adoptive father even though he is not prepared to have a child since he still has too many dreams he wants to see come true. Both are very relaxed and natural around each other, both happy to have found someone who seems to understand their needs and feelings and whom they can consider equally cool. Here, Ellen Page understands that Juno is just a young girl who seems to have a little crush but when she becomes aware of the consequences, she finally shows a more weak side – a helpless breakdown in her car which is done very convincingly and naturally by Ellen Page who shows both the fear of the future and the regret about the present at this moment.

Ellen Page wonderfully shows Juno’s pregnancy as a process of self-discovery but never overdoes it. Juno will remain the same young old girl as before but she has learned more about life and love that she would have thought. But even though Ellen Page makes the most of what she is given, the script, as mentioned before, is also her biggest enemy. She is able to get the most out of it and make it shine much more than it would have with a less capable leading lady and while this certainly is a stunning achievement, the fact remains that there is a certain limit to how much one can rise above average material. Ellen Page catches all the different emotions and feelings of Juno but she does this without ever having to stretch either herself or Juno too far and stays with her performance in line with the simplicity of her character.

Still, it’s a remarkable, fresh, funny and memorable performance that gets

20 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

Eh, this is one performance, and I guess movie, I just don't feel anything for.

She does what she's supposed to do, which I why I gave her a fair grade, but I hate her performance and material immensely.

Zephyr said...

I thought that Juno was a bit of a mess of a film to be honest. It was a bit sentimental, and then added an indie soundtrack to make it appeal to the art-house scene, but then had Jennifer Garner in it, who is as rom-com as you can get. It's a watchable film, but not Oscar worthy...

Fritz said...

I was surpised how much I enjoyed the movie and Ellen Page. After all the bald talk I was ready to totally hate both when I first watched Juno but I ended up really enjoying it.

Zephyr said...

Unfortunately Juno was my least favourite of the best picture nominees that year. I'd have replaced it with La vie en rose for starters!

Fritz said...

I like La vie en rose much more than most people tend to do, but I wouldn't give it a Best Pictuer nomination. I probably wouldn't give Juno a Best Picture nomination either...

Louis Morgan said...

I find her whole performance is weakened by the script, and that she might have been better if the script was not so obnoxiously written.

Fritz said...

I agree that the script works against her but she certainly rose above it (in my opinion).

Sage Slowdive said...

I did like the scene in the car, even though it felt like the director was saying "okay, now start crying".

Fritz said...

Well...he probably did... :-)

Malcolm said...

I'm really glad that you liked her. She's my pick.

Haven't seen Christie, Cotillard, and Blanchett yet. It's a weak year for lead actresses, I see.

Fritz said...

Well, Blanchett is certainly a weak nominee but I wouldn't call Laura or Ellen weak.

Zephyr said...

Cotillard certainly isn't weak either! You may have noticed that I'm a big fan of La vie en rose!!

Fritz said...

Yes I have and Marion certainly isn't weak (I didn't mention her or Julie because I haven't written about them yet but since I have already talked about Marion in my Ranking I can certianly say right now that she amazing)

joe burns said...

I loved her when I first saw it (And I saw it four times after that) and I was heartbroken when she lost, but when I saw it again, my opinion lowered a little, but I still would give her a four.

Fritz said...

So, you must but more satisfied now than with Laura! ;-)

joe burns said...

I don't know what you mean, can you say that again? Lol.

Fritz said...

I mean that my rating for Ellen must make you happy (in contrast to the rating for Laura).

Did you like this review better? I'm always happy about criticism since I want people to enjoy the blog.

joe burns said...

Yeah! It was great!

Robert said...

Aw, I love this performance! I really think Ellen Page makes the clunky script work so, so well, and this review made me remember how much I love this. I don't know, she's probably in my top three of that year.

And the scene in the car was surprisingly perfect. It could have been so cliche or poorly delivered (like...Anna Kendrick's crying scene in Up in the Air? Yikes).

Fritz said...

@Joe: Great, thanks!

@Robert: Thanks and I agree with you!