When we first see Hayley, she is not what we’re expecting her to be. For Jeff, he’s met and seduced a young girl online and when we first see Hayley she might very well be between eleven or twelve. She’s a chocoholic and pretends to be sophisticated in spite of the fact that deep down she’s kind of a bubble head. She’s sort of annoying, and she’s dressed like she’s just waiting to be dragged in to an alleyway and murdered by a wolf crossing her path. She could be taken down at any moment. For audiences around the world, it was most jarring to see a preteen portraying a juvenile who was on the verge of being victimized by an older man. Hayley says she’s fourteen but she may very well be much younger. She has short hair, and red lips, and talks with a bit of an accent giving away too much information about her secret life, and for Jeff it’s all a cakewalk.
Then when the wolf brings Little Red Riding Hood home with him, we learn that the wolf is actually being hunted. This was America’s introduction to Ellen Page. David Slade’s independent thriller was a shock to the system of many audiences who just weren’t used to seeing a girl of Page’s size and build torture and victimize a slick pedophile. But this was no ordinary girl, we were being introduced to the skills and raw acting ability of Ellen Page. For many in America, “Hard Candy” was a look in to the performance of a young girl who seemingly came out of nowhere, but for the Canadian native this was only one in an endless array of gritty female empowered roles where she took charge and proved that she was anything but a child actress. The young girl who once starred in the relatively obscure “I Downloaded a Ghost” was now taking the lead in a film that normal directors would have never touched.
And the future Best Actress nominee would rise out of the depths of child star hell and make her mark as one of the more subversive and game changing actresses of modern Hollywood. I don’t think it a hyperbole to declare Page as the new generation’s Jodie Foster, a child actress once starring in fluff and now basically cementing her career in Hollywood by portraying young, independent, and self-confident women. And she’s refused to submit to the norms of what the business perceives to be the standard for girls of her ilk. In a world where Hollywood pressures actresses to be run of the mill, busty, and curvaceous, Page has stuck to her guns and morals (she’s vocal about her pro-choice views) and has insisted on remaining individual and unique, and it’s helped launch her career in to a slew of rather notable performances in films that she has basically taken for the prestige and personal passion and not wholly for the money.
She’s also managed to so far dodge any and all appearances on Tabloids and hasn’t entirely sold her principles down the river in exchange for publicity. Acting since she was ten, Page has been in the business for years, growing on-screen and always dabbling in films that would normally be brushed off by general audiences in America and in her home country Canada. Even in the face of roles clearly taken for money in dreck like “X-Men: The Last Stand,” Page (who subtly mocked the part in an interview for “Juno”) stands out among people like Kelsey Grammar and Hugh Jackman and is able to make her mark in an already established character. One of the few vulnerable women she’s ever played, Kitty Pryde is a young girl filled with spunk and independence faced with impossible odds and a budding romance with Bobby Drake. As she realizes her powers she takes it upon herself to save the world by communicating with the mutant Leech and faces down the unstoppable Juggernaut.
Though the film is rather terrible, Page really knows how to own the character and make it feel like an original mold formed by Page and her ability to make grace and elegance seem powerful and overwhelming. Page has of course been vocal about her attraction to playing strong females and was even drawn to playing Juno, a young girl who is independent and completely in control of her life even when she discovers she’s pregnant after a night with her ex boyfriend during a party. While the film has split crowds, the film definitely assured audiences of Page’s ability to take roles that would normally be wasted on other girls and just put her stamp on them. Page, while working with newcomer Diablo Cody, became an (pardon the buzz word:) indie darling, a young actress whose breakout role was the very definition of the archetype she strived to achieve and hoped to break down the rut young actresses often had in Hollywood portraying the modern woman in the way Hollywood wanted them to be perceived as.
This view on feminism and strong women have granted her controversy among her equals in the business because Page seems so resolute in her beliefs and principals that it can often come off as elitist.
On playing Juno, Page explained: “People will be like, ‘Whoa, you’re such a feminist! You play such young, strong women.’ It’s like, if I was a guy, you wouldn’t be saying that to me. If I was a guy you wouldn’t be saying, ‘Wow, you play such strong young male roles.’ The question wouldn’t exist. . . . One of the reasons that drew me to [Juno] was, I don’t think we’ve really seen a girl like this before. I can’t think of that many films that have honest, whole, complex young women. I mean, it’s like Ghost World, and then I kind of stop.”
That remark garnered her much praise from her fellow actresses but was not without some raised brows from others who were taken aback by Page’s on the nose evaluation of the portrayal of women in Hollywood.
Though we’ve come far as a society, our view of women has remained stilted and without much evolution. But when you take a step back and analyze her roles, there’s an interesting mold there that Page seizes in where she’s the girl who has aged well beyond her years yet isn’t quite as experienced as she’d like to pretend she is. The role for Juno was one that heaped a large amount of raves from critics and movie goers because the character was unlike anyone had ever seen before. While Page had been somewhat pegged in that role for a while subsequent her performance, she has displayed a varied tone and selection that have challenged her talents and abilities. Films like “American Crime” were a real progression for Page who had to rely on sheer vulnerability and emotional torment to sell the character of Sylvia who is tormented and tortured by her friends and family for simply existing.
It’s a truly excruciating performance from the young Page who brings us in close with every ounce of pain she takes after daring to speak up against the girls she lives with. And there was also “The Tracey Fragments,” a bold indie experiment even if it was a cinematic misfire. But Page tested the waters as Tracey Berkowitz a tormented young outcast lost in a sea of delusion and aspirations for fame when she sets her eyes on a local boy. In the process she manages to lose her little brother in the wilderness and even in spite of his apparent death still can not break out of her fame complex. Page, who was nominated for her role in “Juno” for an Oscar, took her time to gather her bearings and took smaller roles in films like “Smart People” and even had a rather disastrous appearance on “Saturday Night Live” demonstrating that while good actors can storm Hollywood they aren’t always fit to do comedy, even in a show that stopped being funny decades ago.
Interestingly enough though Page seemed hard to peg even on a show with dozens of comedy writers because every single comedy segment seemed fitted for someone with a more mainstream appeal where she faltered miserably, aside from one final sketch where she cleverly tackled her critics who questioned her sexuality, playing a young girl who goes to a concert filled with females and has a sudden sexual ambiguity that really shows how Page can shine on her own terms. In spite of being in Canadian kids films, Page has always been more brave and daring in her roles that would other actresses would turn down or shrug off in exchange for a more broadly appealing performance. Take the rather unique turn in “Mouth to Mouth,” director Alison Murray’s autobiographical account of naiveté becoming prey to the alluring free spirit and danger of the modern cult.
Page grabs on to the character of Sherry with every bit of compassion she can muster up, first playing a maladjusted punk rocker draped in heavy clothing and piercings expressing her individuality with erratic movements to rock music and then radically changing her appearance by shaving her head and dressing in drab clothing once she assumes the subservient position of the follower of a band of lower class nomads whose own devotion to their lifestyle eventually proves deadly. This role, while utterly mesmerizing, was shun in to obscurity once Page managed to drop a few pounds and don short hair for her performance in “Hard Candy,” the movie that should have been more widely received than it originally was. “Mouth to Mouth” remains one of Page’s most overlooked performances, but watching it years after her success in the Hollywood mainstream has shown how much potential she held to earn her place alongside people like Drew Barrymore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Dennis Quaid.
Page is kind of a self-made woman, a girl who, while absolutely beautiful, has gone to where she wants to be in her life based around her talents and rather indescribable charm she injects even in forgettable fare like “Smart People.” Page has a naturally rebellious and subversive attitude toward herself taking great leaps in to defying the pigeonholes Hollywood has almost dropped her in to. When she was deemed as the sadistic Lolita in “Hard Candy,” she took to playing a snarky firebrand in “Juno.” When fans deemed her as such a girl, she took to more humble roles in “Smart People,” and then more as a put upon pageant queen exploring her independence in “Whip It.” Page doesn’t seem to want to be dragged down in any one image and always seems to rely on challenging her fans while being somewhat enigmatic and alluring. There isn’t a lot that’s known about her personal life aside from her love for indie music, her obvious love for sports and camping and her background with Buddhism.
And that’s just how her fan base likes it. In a world where we know too much about the people we admire, it’s refreshing to see someone with so much to offer film keep some things about her in the dark, which is probably why in most interviews she’s described as being somewhat intimidating and imposing. And who can blame them? Page is outspoken to a fault and holds no apologies about her lifestyle and feelings towards other people in Hollywood who’d normally be seen in the Tabloids by now. Page has somehow managed to avoid these pitfalls of fame, so she must be doing something right, even if you’re not a fan. Currently Page has four or five movies in the works and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. And as her clout and popularity grow, Page seems insistent on achieving her status as a feminist icon and cinematic prodigy on her own time and that’s why she’s just one of a kind in a world where young women like her fall so quickly from grace.