February 23, 2008

Ellen Page Rocks My World

In the summer of 2006, I watched the film Hard Candy by myself. Big mistake, because then I was disturbed by myself. I watched it again, a week later, with Brandon--who is unflappable, and thus unperturbed by the dark subject matter of the work. But he also agreed it was a fine film.

I've since taught the movie twice: in a Women's Studies course, in the context of a discussion on power and gender, in tandem with Paula Vogel's play How I Learned to Drive. A student who identified as non-feminist said that Haley, played with enormous nuance by Ellen Page, was her "favorite female character ever." The second time I taught the film, last Fall in an Honors English class, the mostly-female students laughed uproariously at the film's ironic humor. They watched this film as a reinterpretation of myth and folktale, especially as the film makes use of Haley's red hood.

Little Red Riding Hood, re-envisioned. Haley's desire in the film is multiple and mysterious: she is part ingenue, part ingenious Nancy Drew. She's smart, underage, and in control of her loss of control. If that makes any sense.

She meets Lensman319 online and arranges for a f2f meeting at a local coffeeshop. There, Jeff, played by Patrick Wilson, buys her sweets and a t-shirt, which Haley changes into in the shop's bathroom (opening the door to flash her would-be seducer with a vision of her bare-but-for-bra, underdeveloped torso). When he mentions a Goldfrapp mp3 he has back at his house, Haley suggest they go take a listen.

Back at Jeff's place, things get really interesting. He's a photographer for a living (hence "Lensman"), with portraits of nearly-embryonic models in half-dress decorating most of the walls of his home. Haley makes them some drinks (screwdrivers), and suggest Jeff shoot her.

While directing her, Jeff starts to feel funny. His voice loses its control: it becomes more insistent, vulgar, aggressive, demanding. It becomes devoid of its urbanity, its patience. As he loses consciousness, this is the pose Haley strikes. In Page's face, you can see an ounce of concern comingled with satisfaction, even as her body poises itself to leap into action. Incapacitating the director--yanking from him his control to see, to assert his own vision of how the story would go--has been Haley's plan all along.
I won't ruin the rest of the story for you. But this movie made me love Ellen Page, who is proving herself to be one of the smartest, subtlest actors of our time. If you haven't seen Juno, rush to see it. But rent "Hard Candy" first -- the film will make you appreciate the range of this talented artist.

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