Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Juno" and the Gay Talk

One of the nice things about getting older (by which I mean "out of my teens") is that people my age are starting to make a mark in the media, and my generation is developing a voice of its own. I've been thinking about this a lot after seeing the ultra-Zeitgeisty Juno. Director Jason Reitman is 30 years old and screenwriter Diablo Cody is 29. And sure, like many reviewers, I found her quirky dialogue a little too much to take, especially at the beginning of the film. But how great is it that people are actually talking about a movie's dialogue for once? And that this dialogue was written by a female screenwriter?

Even better are the young stars, Michael Cera (19) and Ellen Page (20). Ever since Arrested Development I have loved how Cera does "awkward"--while most "awkward teenage boy" performances just annoy me (cf. Rabbit Hole, 100 Saints..., Doris to Darlene). I think it's because many actors make the mistake of playing these roles as one-dimensional, jittery bundles of nervousness, too shy and sensitive to ever survive in the real world. Michael Cera is different--more understated, less heart-on-sleeve. The actors I dislike simply telegraph "I'm a dork! I'm socially inept!" Cera goes for "I'm trying to be cool, I think it'll work this time...but oh no, did I just do something dorky?" He tries and strives, where other actors just act like losers from the get-go.

Thus, these lines are just so apt--Cera's appeal in a nutshell:
JUNO: You're like the coolest person I've ever met, and you don't even have to try, y'know...
PAULIE: I try really hard, actually.
And Ellen Page is the first actress of my generation that I feel I can relate to. Someone talented and funny (she was hilarious on Letterman) who seems to care about the craft, not the fame or swag bags or clubbing. Someone who got famous because of a small, good movie, not for bad behavior or being a celebrity's daughter or being on a Disney show. I mean, who was I supposed to relate to before this--Hilary Duff? Maybe Evan Rachel Wood was a promising, offbeat role model, until she started dating Marilyn Manson, which is too offbeat even for me. (Ellen, Hilary, Evan, and I were all born in the same year, 1987.)

But I'm also annoyed that the Ellen Pages of this world still have trouble gaining acceptance amongst all the Hilary Duffs. I especially noticed this when I saw on Ellen's IMDB message board about half a dozen threads speculating that she's a lesbian. And OK, "not that there's anything wrong with that," with being a lesbian, I mean.

But I do think there is something wrong with the "reasoning" behind many of these "she must be gay" posts. There is something wrong with saying "judging by her behavior i dont think she digs guys. Lohan/Paris/Britney behavior, shows me they obviously dig guys. i know that sounds twisted, but its the truth" (found here). There is something wrong with thinking that a cute 20-year-old actress must be a lesbian if she isn't in a high-profile, paparazzi-attracting, PDA-filled relationship. There is something wrong with people who comb through every interview Ellen Page has ever given to see if she mentions a boyfriend, and when she does say something like "my ex-boyfriend," dismiss it with a "Well, she probably dumped him when she figured out she was gay!" And there is something wrong with a Hollywood system that presents young gay and lesbian actors with an impossible dilemma: stay in the closet, work 24-7 to quell rumors about your sexuality, and become a big star; or come out of the closet, have everyone praise your courage, but find yourself limited to smaller roles.

People say that Ellen Page sets off their "gaydar" because of her tomboy style, avowed feminism, and "low butch voice." This last accusation especially annoys me, because I like her for her deadpan delivery--a refreshing change from all the starlets who have high-pitched voices cooing Valley Girl uptalk. So do girls now have to sound like airheads in order for people to believe that they are heterosexual? When I and my articulate, feminist, non-trendy Vassar friends are launched into the real world in June, will everyone assume that we are gay?

If Ellen Page is indeed a lesbian, and comes out of the closet while her career is still nascent, I will admire her even more--for being courageous as well as talented and funny. But I also (and maybe this shows that I'm still not as accepting as I'd like) will be slightly disappointed. If Ellen Page is the first actress of my generation that I relate to--and she's also "ponging more gaydar than anyone since Jodie Foster"--then where, as a straight woman, does that leave me?


bob from boston said...

Marissa: When you wrote "There is something wrong . . . that a cute 20-year-old actress must be a lesbian if she isn't in a high-profile, paparazzi-attracting, PDA-filled relationship." you hit the nail right on the head! Our celebrity-crazed culture has a very difficult time relating to actors and musicians who aren't complete exhibitionists or narcissists. I, for one, could care less if Ellen Page is straight, bi- or lesbian.

I wonder why so many lesbians care? Maybe they think they have a "chance" with Ellen? Too weird. Can you say stalkers? I thought you could. ;)

Krina88 said...

I totally agree with you. I don't go anymore to her IMDb forum because this is the main topic. No one cares about her talent, her career, her success. They are only wondering if she is lesbian or not (very immature). Personally I don't think she is, I've met lesbian girls and she doesn't look like one. Seriously, I am a tomboyish too, I don't worry much about fashion, I wear pants mostly, because I find them more comfortable (I'm a very simple person). And I am 100% straight.

But, anyway... I don't care if she is, I just love her movies, her roles. And we cannot change stupid minds. But we can change the forum go here

matilda said...

There's no doubt that the imdb boards are full of trolls. That's probably one half of the comments you are referring too. And I agree that the tone of those messages is very annoying. But then there's also the gay girls who like her(or maybe are crushing on her a little). And I think you should give us a break. As you said there's not a lot of out actresses in Hollywood, because for many being gay is still their dirty little secret. So we take what we can get, and we speculate. Maybe we get overly excited sometimes.
But you have to keep in mind that we think differently about this than straight people do. Not only is a gay actress "not a bad thing" -- it's awesome!!! I just don't have thousands of possible rolemodels/ public figures who share my sexuality. So I relate to the straighties and the possibly-gay-ones, too.
When someone asks on a message board if an actress or an actor is gay and people answer with: "Show some respect for her privacy!", "Just because she's a tomboy doesn't mean she's gay!" I find that overly defensive and kind of mean.
In general I agree that privacy should be respected, and clearly, not all tomboys are lesbians. But if there's nothing wrong with being a lesbian, why is it wrong if someone wonders/ asks that? People ask about the relationships of celebreties all the time.

And gaydar is usually more accurate than you may think. I mean we have to have that ability in order to get through life sanely. And wether it pongs or not has nothing to do with being a tomboy.

Marissa said...

Thanks for visiting, all.

Bob--I don't think my post was so much about "stalkers" and exhibitionism, more about how our society seems to have a problem with young people who are single. Why does every young female celebrity have to constantly have a boyfriend--or if she doesn't have one, talk in interviews about how much she wishes she could fall in love?

Krina--It is annoying that people would rather gossip about someone's personal life than discuss their actual achievements. Good for you for trying to do something different on your site!

Matilda--This was a tricky subject to write about, and I struggled to find the right tone, to express my thoughts but make clear that I'm not trying to offend gays and lesbians. I realized that, much to my chagrin, I still have a few vestiges of homophobia, and this post was an attempt to wrestle with them. For instance, I might feel uncomfortable identifying with Ellen Page if it turns out that she is lesbian--but why should I? Isn't that homophobic? After all, you identify with both straight and gay performers, so why am I so hung up on sexuality?

But it's also, partially, annoyance at some of the old stereotypes. Ellen Page is one of the "smartest" actresses in her generation (just as Jodie Foster is one of the smartest actresses in hers) and if they are both lesbians, it just seems to reconfirm the stereotype that a woman cannot be both smart AND interested in guys. And I really could do without that.

matilda said...

No worries, I'm not offended (not by you anyways). :)
I kind of felt the same way about Chloe Sevigny(whom I adore in almost everything she plays) a couple of years ago when literally everyone on her imbd board was talking about the blowjob scene from the brown bunny. I thought 'this is just too straight for me to handle' and stopped looking at said board.

btw. i loved this article about ellen (sorry if you know it already):

J_Peabody said...

I am so over this conversation, no, debate over Ellen Page's sexuality. She's just a tomboy...get over it. It's even worse now since that SNL skit. I just LOVE how quickly people forget how she was just dating Ben Foster before he started dating Zoe Kravitz. All of a sudden, she's a lesbian. It's all wishful thinking amongst lesbians.

Let her do what she does best...ACT!