My admiration for Ellen Page’s prowess as an actress has caused me to watch many relatively unknown films simply because she stars in them. This doesn’t always pay off (I cannot bring myself to recommend The Tracey Fragments, for example), but many of Page’s projects are worth a watch. Here’s my top five.
Smart People (2008) Noam Murro
A good place to start if you’ve already seen Ellen Page in her better known roles but can’t wait for more. This is an indie, but not nearly as dark or ‘cult’ as many of the other films Page has made (see below).
Murro’s film (an impressive debut) follows the life of lecturer Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) and his family. Ellen Page is cast in a supporting role as Lawrence’s whip-smart, socially awkward but high-achieving daughter Vanessa. As fans may expect, she steals many of her scenes, and is also given the chance to really stand out in a hilarious sub-plot which sees her attempt to seduce her father’s adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church).
Although admittedly there isn’t much of a plot this is a touching family drama made up of several brilliant and nuanced performances. Plus Sarah Jessica Parker, if you can stand her.
Juno (2007) Jason Reitman
Chances are that if you’ve seen only one of Ellen Page’s films, it’s this one. If not then you should go away and watch it, then come back and read on.
Diablo Cody’s breakout screenplay was blacklisted and eventually picked up by Jason Reitman, who The Guardian recently named the 6th best director in the world. In my opinion, these factors combine to make the finished film one of the best of the last 10 years.
This is also largely due to Ellen Page’s performance as the titular Juno MacGuff, a hilarious, sardonic and unapologetically opinionated 16 year old who falls pregnant after sleeping with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (the likeable but less than fabulous Michael Cera in an early performance as someone I suspect is just himself).
You’ll be hard-pushed to find a film that provides more laughs or sharply-drawn amusing characters than this one, whilst also tugging at a few heartstrings. The narrative is certainly a lot more mature than some of the humour, but as a whole Juno is a well-balanced movie.
(Heads up: if you’ve already watched Juno anything like as many times as I have, you might appreciate some geeky trivia. The perfect place to find this is the audio commentary on the DVD, which features Cody, Reitman and Page).
Mouth to Mouth (2005) Alison Murray
In this small-budget drama which opened on only one screen and wasn’t released in the UK until 2008, Ellen Page plays teenage runaway Sherry, who takes up with a rather dodgy cult.
Although this may not sound appealing, this film is everything a film about a cult should be (or, in other words, everything Martha Marcy May Marlene wasn’t). This means it is gritty, shocking and unpleasant to watch at many points.
But it also boasts another admirable performance from Ellen Page, whilst telling an incredible story. Due to the film’s somewhat underground status, there is relatively little information about it available on the internet. However, everything you need to know is most likely to be found on the film’s website.
After I watched Mouth to Mouth about two and a half years ago I lent it to an acquaintance who was also rather enamoured with Ellen Page. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for it to be returned. Hence my rather patchy write-up.
However, I remember Mouth to Mouth as a low-key, but stylish feature, with the power to both engage and repulse audiences. I’d definitely like to give it a second watch if the opportunity ever arises (hint hint DVD hoarder).
Whip It (2009) Drew Barrymore
Bizarrely, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut seems to have crept into the UK somewhat under the radar, but it really does deserve attention. Think Juno, but with roller skates instead of teen pregnancy.
This time around Ellen Page learned to skate in order to play Bliss Cavendar, a teenage girl from Bodeen, Texas, who is desperate to escape from the salmon-pink world of mother-daughter beauty pageants. Bliss’ rebellion takes her to the city of Austin, where she finds an all-female roller derby league. Bliss is soon juggling playing for the ‘Hurl Scouts’ with pageant commitments.
Although this hardly makes for the most original of plots, the screenplay is excellently written and the skilled supporting cast bring a healthy dose of comedy to mix with the more serious issues explored.
The film also follows in Juno’s footsteps in another way; it has an excellent soundtrack including favourites such as the Ramones and Radiohead, as well as lesser-known American artists such as Landon Pigg, who also stars in the movie.
Ellen Page reportedly gave up the lead role in Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell in order to make Whip It. I think she made the right decision.
If you like the sound of any of the above, or even if you just want to know how roller derby actually works (and see some awe-inspiring examples), press play and cheer for Bliss’ alter-ego, Babe Ruthless. I defy anyone to watch this film and come away not wanting to play roller derby.
Hard Candy (2005) David Slade
If the name David Slade rings a bell, it may be because he recently directed Eclipse, the third instalment of the Twilight saga. But don’t let that fact colour your view too much, as this is a gem.
In Hard Candy Ellen Page made her breakout performance aged just eighteen, alongside a tiny cast which includes only four others.
For the majority of the film however, only Page and Patrick Wilson are to be seen. Wilson plays a potential paedophile, who Page’s character, Hayley Stark, is attempting to entrap.
Revealing much more would ruin the intense experience of watching the film for the first time, as the narrative is intelligent and fast-paced, enticing the audience with possibilities (some horrific to view) before springing away in a different direction.
However, I’ve also found the film enjoyable on subsequent viewings, partly because of how interesting it is to see other people’s reactions to the ambiguous story. Page’s depiction of Hayley Stark has incited a similar reaction to the eponymous character of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita. As the truth about Wilson’s character Jeff is never fully revealed, Hayley has been interpreted as both villain and heroine.
(Wilson’s performance is also commendable, and one of the best of his career. When compared with his more forgettable appearances in comedic capers such as Morning Glory or The Switch, Hard Candy displays his diverse range).
Ellen Page will next grace the silver screen in Woody Allen’s latest, To Rome with Love, out on the 14th September.
Also, for any gamers among you, Ellen Page’s involvement in the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls has me excited despite my near-total ignorance of video games. Beyond is currently filming, with Ellen Page providing visuals via mo-cap.