Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ellen Page: Will Inception and Freeheld Allow Her To Shine?

Regular readers may have gleaned that I have a growing fondness for Ellen Page. The fondness isn't overtly displayed but that's basically a matter of caution. Young obviously talented stars can have inexplicably short careers and young obviously untalented stars can have inexplicably long ones and you just never can tell. That's why it's safer to love actresses of a certain age and depth of filmography. If you can survive a good dozen years in the Hollywood rapids with all the tossing about, you're probably in it for as long as you have the stamina for it.

Too often Page is connected with Juno (2007), her starmaking role, and because that film is so divisive, she tends to be. Once the fog of Juno dissipates (let's give it one more year) people will probably wake up to the fact that she isn't that pregnant smartass. She was just very smart about how to walk in her shoes and find her voice.

If more people had seen Whip It (2009) they'd already know that Juno was neither fluke nor prison. Page can carry a film and shift to accommodate a different character without any visible strain. That's the mark of a confident charismatic actor, if not always a sure sign of inevitable A List stardom.

I don't think anyone fully knows Page's screen persona yet... including Ellen Page. That's an exciting thing -- particularly since Ellen herself seems eager to experiment with her image -- provided Hollywood comes through with roles that challenge her and tease that star identity out. As a movie star isn't she still in larva stage?

It's one of the reasons I think about her with caution. I have no idea who advised her to be that spokesperson for Cisco but a ubiquitous endorsement deal near the beginning of your acting career seems like a decision made with only short term goals in mind. Endorsements can raise your profile but they don't do a lot for conceptions about your gifts (if anything they detract) and they definitely don't increase audience affection. Commercials, especially those which air frequently, tend to bring irritation. Will anyone ever look at Justin Long and not think of "I'm a Mac". And isn't it a crying shame that people are far more likely to think of T-Mobile when they think of Catherine Zeta-Jones than they are to think of the Oscar winning role that directly preceded that deal? By all means make money with your celebrity but big noisy endorsement deals aren't a good idea unless you're wrapping up your movie stardom.

Page is one of several members of Young Hollywood's elite that people have held up as a casting possibility for David Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2012). Varying reports tell us 'no, he'll go with an unknown' or 'it's definitely Carey Mulligan' or 'Kristen Stewart for the box office!' or what have you. Those rumors will keep rotating until some lucky girl signs the contract. Though I'd love to see Ellen try her hand at action, I doubt that that coveted role will land in her lap.


Next up for Ellen is Chris Nolan's Inception (pictured above). Page's role looks fairly large but I doubt it will be anything like a game changer. The cast is huge, Nolan tends to focus on the men in his movies and her role -- again just judging on promotional materials -- doesn't seem particularly interesting. I suspect she's the audience proxy... i.e. a structural device more than a character. You know the kind. Complicated stories with deeper than usual mythologies or concepts often require an outsider character to help the audience along. You can find countless examples in film or television of this template. The outsider is brought into a world they don't understand and the insiders (everyone else) explain and show the world/situation/plot to them and in so doing explain and show it to the audience watching. Whether or not the film lives up to expectations, what it will do for her career is an entirely different question.

But never mind all that because she's just signed on for Freeheld. That should keep our imaginations about her cinematic future occupied for now.

Freeheld is the true story of Laurel, a veteran detective who died of cancer. After diagnosis and with the knowledge of how little time she had left, she attempted to transfer her earned pension over to her life partner Stacie. Her elected officials wouldn't allow for it. So began a heated contemporary civil rights struggle in New Jersey. Sadly, the story will surely still resonate by the time the film arrives, whenever that will be, because such a vocal conservative portion of Americans still support discriminatory practices against their fellow citizens.

The real Laurel and Stacie in Freeheld (2007)

Page will play Stacie, the mechanic girlfriend. It's an interesting choice for the actress given the rumors that have swirled around her own sexuality. Page's arguably butch energy could be fascinating in this fresh context. She's done thrillers, sports films, scifi and comedies. A dramatic political movie with a romantic anchor sounds, if artistically successful, like a sure bet to help audiences and Hollywood to see her with fresh eyes. It could even be an Oscar film. The Academy loves a good social issues movie and the documentary won the industry's top prize.

Ron Nyswaner is writing the screenplay. While he's most famous for writing Philadelphia (for which he was Oscar nominated) we can only hope that he'll get at something deeper and less two dimensional than an Issue Movie. It's always hard to know if any movie's screenplay has been undermined or abetted by the other elements: acting, directing and executive decisions can significantly alter any screenplay. But I'm hoping that the relationship heart of this film will be a lot closer in quality to another film he wrote, The Painted Veil. That film, roundly ignored in the annual glut of December releases in its year, succeeded in churning up complicated emotions and true depth of feeling.

There's no word yet on which actress will play the Laurel role but one assumes it'll be hotly contested. At the very least she'll need great chemistry with Page. Laurel was nearly 50 years old when she died (Stacie was younger) and there's plentiful 40-50something actresses that'd be wise to start fighting for it. And besides... what woman wouldn't want to wrap her legs around Ellen Page in friendship?

How does Ellen Page strike you as an actress or star? Which older actress would you love to see paired with her? And if you've seen the Freeheld documentary (unfortunately I haven't), please speak up.
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54 comments:

Andrew R. said...

I like her. You forgot to mention Hard Candy.

"Young obviously untalented stars can have inexplicably long careets..."

CoughcastofTwilightexceptAnnaKendrickcough.

W.R. said...

I'm hoping that Ellen Page will have a long successful career as an actress. In a short amount of time she's proven her talent, whether in small independent projects like "The Tracey Fragments" or mainstream fare.

I haven't seen the original documentary but the first name that I thought of to play Laurel was Patty Clarkson. Her strength and sensuality would be a great match for Ellen.

filmjunkie25 said...

Ellen Page has been one of my favourite actresses for a long, probably since Juno. I have not seen Hard Candy, but I hear this was really her actress-making role (not 'star', I don't think Ellen will ever be a 'star'). I thought she was great in Whip It too.
She will probably become even more famous with the release of Inception, I mean look what Avatar did for Zoe Saldana. Hopefully her role in this will provide her with some thing to perform, but I whole-heartedly reckon that Inception will be Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's film.
As for an older female co-star for Ellen...how about Julianne Moore?? Just because they are two great actresses.
Ellen is so under-rated and so much better than the likes of Kristen Stewart and other young famous people.

Volvagia said...

I agree on Inception. Don't know about Freeheld, though. Sounds too dangerous: The interested people, as a whole, don't hate acting wins for interesting, likeable movies. They do grow to, at the very least, dislike wins for message movies, like Freeheld could be, especially when they are perceived as stealing from the likeable movie. I'm thinking there's going to be some role for her in both Evil Dead 4 and Warcraft and, hopefully, those are crackling parts. (And maybe the former film will also give Bruce Campbell his just desserts.) I could live without Freeheld, to be frank.

Volvagia said...

And being viewed as stealing from the likeable movie? Always happens, even if it's years afterwards.

Jude said...

I'd like to see Jodie Foster take on this part... Or maybe Julianne Moore.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I adore Ellen Page. Bliss Cavendar would probably fall into my top ten performances of last year.

"Which older actress would you love to see paired with her?"

Martha Plimpton. Do you even need to think about it? She's just shy of being 20 years older than Ellen, and she could look like Laurel Hester. Plus, duh, she's Martha Plimpton.

NATHANIEL R said...

MARTHA PLIMPTON. You are genius. She's such a fine actress and the movies have abandoned her. at least she's doing lots of acclaimed stage work now.

adelutza said...

I like Ellen Page, though up to now all her roles asked the same kind of skills from her, more or less. I hope she'll do something different soon, otherwise she'll be doing the same forever.

GD said...

I've always hoped that she'll never end up like Thora Birch or Winona Ryder and just be forgotten about.
I'm hoping that she'll be able to have a great career as she gets older.

I think she wants to be like Samantha Morton and only act once every blue moon. There's a lot of young actresses in for the kill now (coughcoughcareymulligan) and I don't think she wants to deal with that too much.

I guess if movies don't work for her, she can go to the stage like Scarlett and Keira have. Or she can get her own TV show or something.

Ben said...

Just throwing it out there, but how about Robin Wright Penn? I thought she was excellent in the otherwise mediocre Private Lives of Pippa Lee.

I'm on the "can't stand" side of the fence as far as Juno is concerned, but agree that Ellen Page is very talented. The awkwardness and vulnerability she brought to her role in Whip It, and her wonderful chemistry with Marcia Gay Harden.

Ashley said...

She also has a role in a James Gunn movie called Super that I think i'm more excited about. Gunn insists that this role will be completely different from anything that we've seen her in.

I think that her good attitude and behavior is a positive for her. There are so many young actresses who don't know what to say/do or seem full of it.

She also has some great friends in the business. Leonardo Dicaprio helped get her a narration job on a film about bees. Also, I'm sure Drew Barrymore would work with Ellen again.

NATHANIEL R said...

GD... i'm okay with actresses only working once a year if they choose carefully. but it does start to feel like "do you care at all?" if they're too hard to get *cough* Pfeiffer *

Ben... i still need to see that one. I'm excited to see what Robin Wright can do in The Conspirator though

Erich Kuersten said...

Hard Candy would have been awful with anyone else, but Tracey Fragments is awful just for thinking Page alone could transform it into something other than an extended short.

Nathaniel, your candor-gossip style is getting very precise and pointed, you're growing into an even better blogger than before, with both wisdom and disillusionment, for they inevitably come only together.

I hope Ellen manages to not age into another humorless butch indie girl, and is allowed to attempt some feral sexuality as she ages, other than the cutesy shyness schtick with folks like, ahem, Michael Cera. Now there's a guy who's indie nebbishy unsexiness is wearing on my nerve endings! By Crom! The first time it's cute, then it's a habit, then it's an embarassment, then you kind or wind up behind the gender eightball, you haven't drawn any of the strength availbel from either polarity's archetypal force and you wind up stunted, like those Heaven's Gate cultists.

My dream casting for The Runaways would have dispensed with Kristen Stewart as Cheri (they look a lot a lot alike actually) and Ellen Page as Joan Jett. Poor Dakota could have been spared to fight another day. The world is hard on her blonde creatures.

Deus Ex Machina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deus Ex Machina said...

Eleln Page worried me, not because I feared her career was over but because I thought she'd be immediately cast in rom-com's playing nothing but variations of Juno. It's sad that typecasting has stricken people i consider to be talented if given the opportunity, like Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez, who tasted the waters of good films that could have enriched their careers (Out of Sight, The Cell, Office Space, Friends with Money) but instead decided to go the easy way and play their plucky selves thereafter. I have a good feeling that Page will be cautious, but I also sense her possibly growing bored with the business and that eventually she'll become as elusive as my darling Winona Ryder.

Volvagia said...

Same sorts of skills? Well, okay. But that's just another Juno effect. (Thirlby still plays the overly intelligent sex-god (The Wackness), Page the quirky rebel (Smart People, Whip It) and Cera the Robo-Nerd (copyright of Omni Consumer Products) (Nick and Norah, Year One, Youth in Revolt.) Only founded actors escaped un-type cast. (Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Jen Garner, Jason Bateman)

Robert said...

It's such a shame that Juno keeps haunting Ellen Page. If she should be remembered for anything, in regards to Juno, it should be for saving the film with a very layered performance.

Volvagia said...

Erich Kuerstein, please lay off Michael Cera. I guess some may have thought of John Cusack this same way at the same stage in his career. Y'know, before The Grifters, when he proved he was an actor, not just a shallow "star persona." It's not that I hate you, it's just that thinking a performer has to have sex appeal is, in it's own way, WRONG.

NATHANIEL R said...

robert -- right? She's top notch in Juno.

deus ex -- those actresses cited have only themselves too blame. When you're that famous and rich you have your choice as to what to do... provided you don't always need to be paid extravagantly for it. but they must need that given the choices they make. P.S. I'm glad Jennifer Aniston is sticking with romcoms because i think she ruines indie films (she totally brough Friends with Money down. ugh)

erich -- thank you kind sir. I agree that the humorless butch girl is a real possibility. RUN AWAY ELLEN. i am of the first belief that stars who take themselves too seriously have a MUCH harder time shifting with the winds of their evolving careers and staying relevant.

xyzz said...

I think she could be like Natalie Portman. Do big movies and do little indies that she really likes,but may be questionable to others.

They're both smart and support a lot of causes. Natalie has pretty much played people who are younger than her for her entire career, so I don't see Ellen having any issues in regards to her young looks.

Lucky said...

I really like Ellen Page, although I haven't been particularly impressed by anything she's done yet. I think she was better in Whip it (such an underrated film!) and Hard Candy than she was in Juno.

I remember being very excited when I read she was going to star in a movie directed by Michel Gondry and written by Daniel Clowes. That's a dream director/writer/actress team.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

After Hard Candy and Juno (two relatively tacky films/roles she elevated through uncanny insight/layers/charisma) Ellen is pretty much already assured a place in my pantheon. And of course she was lovely in Whip It.

But as for Girl with the Daddy Complex ahem Dragon Tattoo - it's not an action film, it's just a 2.5 hour CSI episode with a butch dyke who:
[*minor ideological spoilers*]
- gradually comes to terms with the fact that Daddy never loved her;
- repeatedly screws a man her Daddy's age to feel properly loved and protected like a woman shuld be;
- and ultimately realises that she feels much nicer screwing men and wearing pretty clothes and makeup thereafter.
So she is cured of her butch dykedom. I hope and pray Ellen stays away from this thing.

Anonymous said...

For some reason I think that Freeheld would be better as a TV movie maybe on HBO or Showtime. I don't know why.

Rahm said...

I've seen quite a few of her movies, but Whip It! made me really like her. I was kinda indifferent before, although I thought she was talented.

I watched Peacock the other day and while Cillian Murphy was fantastic, Ellen wasn't at her best imo. I didn't find her believable. Hopefully she'll do something that will make me forget that performance.

Cal said...

I'm looking forward to Freeheld but if it turns out to be the lesbian equivalent of Brokeback Mountain I'm worried that it might do Ellen's career more harm than good. Casting directors are already cautious/shallow enough (particularly with regard to women) and so if this becomes her most famous role will that prevent her from snagging hetero romantic leads? After all, the vast majority of female leads are sexualised to some degree, and I shouldn't imagine Freeheld is going to be a box-office success. Will they think she's less marketable?

Just a thought - I hope I'm wrong.

NATHANIEL R said...

Cal -- but brokeback didn't prevent Jake Gyllenhaal from getting romantic lead roles... and people are way more scared of gay sex than they are of lesbian sex.

Y Kant -- yikes. i guess i should read Girl with a Dra... or better yet, not?! Is this really what it's like? and if so I guess that's why it's so popular? People love things with horrible messages about heteronormativity :)

Philip said...

Okay this is weird...I was JUST watching Ellen Page interviews on YouTube earlier. Then I come on here and the first post is about her. How odd.

Anyway, I'm excited for Freeheld, it sounds like it could be a nice role for her. Not sure what it will do for her career though. She's a good actress, I hope she can hold out.

Morgan said...

I like her a lot and I'll be really interested to see her playing adult roles -- it's funny, I really could not stand Juno but I came away from it with a really positive reaction to her. She's something of an enigma to me because I haven't seen her in much else but that performance was enough to convince me that she has a lot of talent.

But I do think it's encouraging that she seems to be pretty picky about her projects and (with the exception of those dreadful Cisco ads) doesn't seem to have done anything just for the money. Hopefully that will translate into a sustained career.

James T said...

I thought she was great in Hard Candy but I find her kind of cold so even if she gives two or more performances that I'll consider amazing, I don't know if I'll ever be able to love her.

The Man Behind The Curtain said...

I love her.

Blinking_Cursor said...

"Though I'd love to see Ellen try her hand at action, I doubt that that coveted role will land in her lap."

Much as I would like to see her snag the role of Lisabeth Salander in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', I do think it's a distinct possibility that she won't get the role. It's not that she can't bring the necessary gravitas or vulnerability or dark edginess that is required, she can. Page's earlier work in 'Mouth to Mouth', American Crime', and 'Hard Candy' shows her
depth and range, and that she can do all that. Rather, what would be a sticking point from the Producers and Studio's perspective is her very youthful appearance and small physique. She's not as curvaceous as some of her contemporaries, and she can still easily pass for a teenager. In GWTDT, Lisabeth Salander is suppose to have some fairly graphic sex scenes with an older man. I can see some studio head passing on Ellen for the role because of this. The thought of Ellen and some middle aged man having such a scene could bring out the squick factor for some. Indeed, in X-Men the Last Stand, Ellen's character, Kitty, had some kissing scenes with Shawn Ashmore's character, Bobby. Those scenes were cut from the final print of the film. The official reason stated was that the producers wanted the audience to not see Kitty as the "bad girl" and getting between the Bobby/Rogue pairing. However, I've heard that another reason is that the producers thought she looked very young, too young in fact, and thought the kiss was inappropriate and distasteful to the tone they were aiming for.

"Page's role looks fairly large but I doubt it will be anything like a game changer. The cast is huge, Nolan tends to focus on the men in his movies and her role -- again just judging on promotional materials -- doesn't seem particularly interesting. I suspect she's the audience proxy... i.e. a structural device more than a character."

I'm going to be contrarian here and say that Ellen's role as Ariadne IS going to be the game changer. Allegedly, there's a twist in the third act, and some one on Cobb's (Leo's) team is suppose to be a traitor. I'm calling it now and saying it's going to be Ariadne.

"How does Ellen Page strike you as an actress or star? Which older actress would you love to see paired with her?"

I think she's a fabulous actress, with a lot of talent. She also seems to be a class act, and isn't interested in projects for the fame or money factor. As for older actresses I'd like to see paired with her for Freeheld, I like the names already brought up, Julianne Moore, Jodie Foster, Robin Wright Penn. But how about...Charlize Theron? CT has already covered similar territory in Monster, so I can see her doing another slightly alternate take on it again.

Fernando Moss said...

Well, I think Walter's choice with Plimpton is fantastic, but I don't see it happening in a million years...

I'd love to see Maria Bello as Laurel just because I think she is a very underrated actress, but again I don't think they'll go there...

Other two actresses I think could do great in the role are Jodie Foster and Cynthia Nixon...

Jake D said...

I've been really worried about her career for awhile. The roles are (kind of) there, but I get the sense that she doesn't really know where to go from here. Her biggest problem (imo) is that she isn't amazingly adaptive. She's good at pulling aspects of her own personality into roles and creating something very distinctive, but she's definitely not a character actress and she's rarely going to be considered for romantic leads. I just fear she will run out of different types of roles to do and work herself into a bit of a rut.

I heard someone say she was considered for Natalie Keener (but Reitman wrote it for Kendrick, so I doubt she was ever considered that much). I wonder how she would have done with that...

Dan Stephens said...

..thought she "shined" quite handsomely in Hard Candy

mrripley said...

I am sorry but i loathed juno the character but thought page nailed it even though due to my dislike of the film and characters surrounding her except jen garner stopped me from nominating her.

as a star she is not 1 yet she has no real persona or name recognition and whip it flopping showed it.

who will be her other half let's give it to an actress primed for a comeback i dunno left field choice - mary stuart masterson.

ann said...

she and Evan Rachel Wood have disappointed me a lot lately

Volvagia said...

Ellen Page as Natalie Keener? It's like Lancaster vs. Olivier on The Leopard. Yeah, Olivier might have been slightly better, but you can't admit that Burt didn't look absolutely convincing. Yeah, the trick of it means he shouldn't win an Acting prize. However, there's still a certain gravitas in his expressions. I say, don't think about such things.

OtherRobert said...

I don't care if Ellen Page never has another great film role, she's cemented in my all time great film performances for her jarring work in Hard Candy. Sandra Oh aside, that film's a masterclass in acting.

Volvagia said...

No, unfortunately Whip It! flopped because no one in North America cares to see an intelligent, well crafted movie at the theatre anymore. They just want the fun trifles, like Transformers, Alice in Wonderland and How to Train Your Dragon. Anything that isn't a fun trifle may as well be made for a solely DVD audience. (And that will include an update to the Oscar rules to allow films released only on DVD to be up for Oscar consideration.)

ShoNuff Lives said...

first, freeheld the documentary short was absolutely heartbreakingly excellent. i'm not quite sure why they would make a fictionalized version when the documentary won an oscar. i guess i just figured that out.

anyway, i'd love to see ellen paired with either edie falco, robin wright, or marcia gay harden as laurel.

Anonymous said...

For me, Ellen Page is a decent actress (Only Hard candy convince me and I despise Juno), but after hearing in interviews she seemed odd. I tried, but she didn't like me at all.

It is really interesting how will be her future career, because she would be great -A la Jodie Foster- or she would be typecasting -A la Winona Ryder-.

Sebastian said...

"Juno" was excellent, and it's not a damn thing about it that Ellen Page has to "survive." Most actresses would be so lucky as to land a role like that which was a one-way ticket to superstardon, recognizability, A-list gigs, and a shiny Oscar nomination. I'm iffy about her in "Inception," just b/c the ladies don't fare too well in these kind of films, but "Freeheld" sounds like a winner that will test her chops and expose her to an entirely new and adult audience. Can't wait to see how she handles material like this.

Honest Abe said...

I agree that "Freeheld" should be an HBO movie or something. No one's going to flock to the cineplexes to see this kind of film. The arthouse crowd can only take a film so far, as we know already. But this sounds perfect for Ellen Page though. The older lady (there was this much of an age difference between the real-life women?) should be a role that Jodie Foster kills to get her hands on. Robin Wright would be a strong choice too.

NATHANIEL R said...

honest abe -- but there's not a thriller angle for Jodie to exploit. She only likes thrillers.

Jim said...

When Ellen's under discussion we seem to assume she some how needs our advice to become "successful". What we tend to forget,I think, is that she has carefully chosen each role she has played. She has her own criteria and I suspect that the potential size of the box office take or her own fame are pretty low on that list. She has said many times that she needs to be excited to play the part - and maybe it's that simple. She doesn't ultimately care about what we think would be best for her.

vinay said...

one good thing is that ellen likes independant small movies with strong women, shes not too fussed about not appearing in big budget movies, although she plays the leading female role in Inception..(gonna be an awesome movie!)

A number of film critics do agree with one thing, she has amazing screen presence,and people luv seeing her on screen

as much as im waiting to see her in Inception, im eagerly awaiting the release of her next movie release " Super" ,shes got a whacky ,fun part in the movie..

ellen would be great if cast as Lisbeth in " the girl in the dragon tatoo"

if anyone saw her in "hard candy" as the psychotic, castrating teen, and the Goth rebel in "Mouth to Mouth" ,its lke walking into Lisbeth's shoes.
theres been talk that Carrey Mulligan may get the part, but shes too wholesome or soft to play a hard-ass in the movie

Sheila King said...

Guess you haven't watched the 3rd trailer for Inception yet, Nathaniel. If you had, you would have noticed that Ellen has some kind of tragic moment in the film where she is held by DiCaprio's character who is wiping away her tears. A still of said scene shows something in the background that may be a kind of spoiler so I won't say what it was. Also, though I hate to bring it up, the recent Nikki Finke bit about cast and reps seeing the nearly finished film and being very excited about her work in it (along with Cotillard and DiCaprio's). Those three seemed to have elicited the most praise for whatever reasons. Hopefully very good ones.

Anonymous said...

Sheila, I don't think that's Ellen in the scene you're talking about. I think it's Marion Cotillard.

vinay said...

Sheila: thats marion coulthard lying in di-caprio's arms..not ellen

vinay said...

agreed.. anumber of moview reviews said she should have been nominated for an oscar...not since sissy spacek in "Carrie" in 1978 , has another actress given such a terrifying cold performance
its a disappointment that the movie was hardly shown commercially, Hollywood decided that the movie content ( child pornography) was too disturbing

par3182 said...

ellen page is going to be playing diane keaton's assistant in a hbo comedy - didn't see that coming...

vinay said...

yeah, neither did i, its a HBO tv series...

i think the one movie im waiting for after Inception, is the comedy "super" , apparently gonna be a lot of laughs, ellen like we havent seen her before:)

probably released around September...

Anonymous said...

Why do you guys can't remember her performance in An American Crime? Her acting in that movie could make people forget Juno.

She's got a lot of talent and i want to see more from her on the big screen.

I agree with the commercial thing on this article.