It’s an affliction of the contemporary Hollywood actor who came to prominence during their relative adolescence that has occurred several times over. Known primarily for her star-turning and eponymous role in director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s 2007 indie drama turned mainstream pop-cultural sensation Juno, Nova Scotia native Ellen Page became an instantly recognizable sweetheart for a very specific class of theatergoer. Her irreverent mock-sophistication in Reitman’s career-launching production put the Canadian actress on the map, yet the years that have followed her Oscar-nominated introduction to the larger movie-viewing public has not been quite as renowned.
Ever since Cody’s script made it’s way to Page’s attention, the big screen star has not been quiet as prominently featured within the studio system as her early success might have initially intimated. While Juno saw Page in a role that seemed preternaturally singular and artistically inspired, the star performer’s track record since then has been less than immediately well known. Despite appearing in Christopher Nolan’s highly praised genre production Inception and James Gunn’s underrated superhero satire Super within the span of a single year in 2010, the former Trailer Park Boys regular has had some trouble moving very far beyond the independent film circuit.
For better and for worse, Page has largely remained an underground talent. Despite her brief foray into the realm of big budget studio filmmaking in two X-Men feature franchise installments, Page has kept her roots firmly grounded in projects more agreeable with the art house crowd. Going so far as to dedicate her talents and time to infamous French game designer David Cage’s controversial Beyond: Two Souls in 2013, Page has gone on to spend much of her time in relative obscurity in a film culture dominated by franchise sequels and comic book movie monoliths. Page may have been attractive to Woody Allen in his misguided anthology rom-com To Rome with Love in 2012, but her ability to captivate viewers has been on a decided downturn of late, regardless of her innately attractive qualities.
But perhaps the fault has less to do with the projects that Page has decided to be a part of than it does with the actress as an individual performer. More precisely, maybe Page’s recent string of theatrical appearances ring false because they have never deviated very far from the caricature more appropriately applied to Juno. Maybe Page has struggled to find mainstream success yet again because she has never been able to shirk the persona that Cody so conveniently supplied her with in Reitman’s critically-acclaimed film. Maybe Page and the Juno MacGuff character have become so inextricably linked to one another that even the actress herself has taken on the trappings of that role into perpetuity.
Following the release of first-time director Sian Heder’s Sundance Film Festival contender Tallulah on Netflix this past week, Page has become the center of minor attention within the independent film circuit once more. But where her breakout performance in 2007 saw the Canadian actress skyrocket to mainstream notoriety, Tallulah feels like more of the same with lesser rewards. Granted, a lot of the movie’s script is bolstered by an impressive cast of lead performers, but Page still draws the most immediate attention. But instead of drawing on an inherent charisma that is genuinely expressed, Page feels trapped-in by a persona that has become synonymous with the young actress since her premiere spotlight debut.
Despite possessing a talent she so clearly wishes to embrace and embolden, Page feels like she is playing some dramatic simulacrum of herself. Juno MacGuff felt like a brave, unfiltered expression of adolescent angst initially, but as Page has moved from role-to-role since her personality has become a complacent redundancy of her former performance’s glory. It has accordingly become almost impossible to separate Page from Juno, a film whose influence on the popular culture has somehow warped the public’s image of Page, and perhaps even influenced the actress’ professional style as a result.
Tallulah comes at an interesting point in Page’s career. After officially coming out as gay in 2014, Page went on to star in the queer-oriented drama Freeheld to mixed critical reception. Such a fact isn’t all that surprising given the actress’ penchant for taking on smaller indie dramas with little pull at the box office, and should stand for what is likable about Page to begin with. One need only glance at her official IMDb profile or catch an odd episode of her ingenious VICELAND documentary series Gaycation to see that Page is fully willing to hedge her bets on the projects that appeal to her first and foremost. In between taking part in the Christopher Nolan epic Inception and appearing briefly in the larger X-Men feature franchise, Page has been an indie talent through and through.
There are numerous moments throughout Heder’s debut motion picture Tallulah that shine because of Page’s dependable blend of sophomoric immaturity and impish optimism that largely serve to overshadow some of the movie’s more clichéd narrative beats. Heder’s film soars on the power of its performers, and Page is a more than sympathetic protagonist to hang one’s hopes and faith upon. But the nagging feeling that Heder’s aimless drifter is oddly akin to the spirit behind Cody’s defiant adolescent is hard to shake, leaving the viewer with a somewhat familiar taste in their mouth that results in a stale viewing experience overall.
Page is always captivating to watch, but part of her appeal comes in the well-worn quality to her acting that was established by her work in Juno. Page has since seemingly donned the same mold over and over, which has resulted in consistently heartwarming productions with little overt differentiation between one another. Juno was a pitch-perfect comedy that references teen pregnancy as much as Tallulah is an effusively felt melodrama bearing a tacit exploration of motherhood. But neither film moves very far beyond the essential trappings of their respective genres in much the same way that Page has struggled to find a clearly defined self in front of the camera. Page is always charming to watch, yet one can’t help hoping with each film role that the viewer might finally see her being someone other than Ellen Page the actor.
Featured Image: Netflix