Anyone doubting the degree to which the Web can accelerate cultural cycles and trends should be reminded of one sobering fact: “Juno” is not even a year old. But in Internet time (much like dog years, but quicker), the film and its breakout talents Ellen Page and Diablo Cody have been around for ages.
After a triumphant bow in Telluride and then Toronto last September, what started as a small comedy subsequently became a media sensation, Oscar contender, newspaper op-ed prompt and promotional vehicle for an obscure folk duo.
And this was all before the film was even released. By that time, screenwriter Cody and star Page had already become media stars. Together they constituted a perfect storm — a symbiosis of maker and medium that left critics wondering where Cody’s character stopped and Page’s performance began. Oscar nominations for both were forthcoming, and the film grossed an astounding $229 million worldwide.
Were this 20 years ago, Page and Cody might have coasted on this sort of good will for some time. But the peculiar gravity of new media holds that all praise is merely prelude to an equal and opposite backlash, and both progressed from sweethearts to punching bags in record time. After the bow of “Smart People,” Page’s first post-“Juno” effort, ever-vigilant critics noted the similarity between her last two roles and quickly pegged her a one-note wonder. (Never mind that the movie lensed long before the phrase “honest to blog” meant anything to anyone.)
But the lion’s share of scorn was aimed squarely at Cody, whose oft-repeated backstory, distinctive colloquialisms and largely thesis-less Entertainment Weekly columns made her a conspicuous target for comment-board assassins. For the seemingly unpardonable sin of writing a distinctive, successful comedy on her first attempt (and collecting Oscar, BAFTA, Indie Spirit and WGA statuettes for her trouble), Cody has inspired a budding cottage industry of parodies.
She’s hardly deterred.
“Tenacity is as important as talent,” Cody says. “And criticism is as useful as praise. I eat it like fuel. I’m the little engine that runs on hate. My productivity spikes when I’ve got something to prove, and it seems like I always do.”
True to her boast, Cody has three major projects that are assembling into attack formation. First, there’s the “Heathers”-styled horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body” for Fox Atomic, in post-production. (“I’m very excited about what I’ve seen. It reminds me of a beautiful, profane puppet show,” Cody says.)
She’s also collaborated with Steven Spielberg for the Showtime pilot “The United States of Tara,” with subsequent episodes slated to start shooting in September. And most recently, a mysterious second collaboration with Spielberg — this one a feature — was announced July 16. She refuses to spill any details, noting, “I can’t talk about it yet, or someone might sever my topmost finger joint, Yakuza-style.”
She’s even invited further scorn by putting her favorite films on display, serving as guest programming director for L.A.’s retro New Beverly Theater.
“I’m the first lady to do it, so I’m totally on my high horse about that,” she says. “The geeky, hobbyist aspect of film appreciation is the assumed provenance of males. Which is weird, because girls love ‘Creepshow,’ too.”
Meanwhile, Page is keeping a far lower profile, or at least attempting to. Despite a halt on interviews and promotional appearances, she has nonetheless landed in the news for jumping agencies, from William Morris to Endeavor.
With thriller “Peacock” in post-production, Page is shooting “Whip It,” a roller-derby-set comedy helmed by first-time director Drew Barrymore. After that wraps, it’s straight to Britain to tackle the title character in BBC’s “Jane Eyre” adaptation.
A strong portrayal of Charlotte Bronte’s swooning, decidedly nonsarcastic heroine would go a long way toward puncturing Page’s reputation for smart-ass characters, as could a greater audience for the bleak, just-released “The Tracey Fragments,” in which she demonstrates more of the fearlessness that first put her on the indie radar after “Hard Candy.”
Page and Cody have no announced plans to work together again, but given the pace they’re keeping, it should be only a matter of time before they’re ready for a reunion.
Role models: “People with nuts and guts. The gonzo hustlers of Hollywood.”
If not Hillary, then who? “No one should vote for Taft, because he might get stuck in the bathtub.”
Career mantra: “Act as if …”
Role model: “Kate Winslet … To follow up ‘Titanic’ with an indie film shot in Morocco shows the integrity she has as an actor,” Page tells Variety.
Career mantra: “Remaining as honest as possible and having the control to play roles that are fulfilling and challenging to me and that I feel passionate about,” she told Drew Barrymore in Interview magazine.