by Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY, published on September 10, 2009 04:13|
Two years and two days ago, director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody and actress Ellen Page watched a surprise hit being born as their cinematic baby, Juno, was given an enthusiastic group hug by clapping crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Says Page, "It wasn't until the standing ovation at the premiere that I realized that this special little movie we had created might not be so little after all."
Thanks in large part to that early reception at the annual fall gathering of film fanatics, critics and industry movers and shakers, the low-budget comedy about a smart-mouth pregnant teen went on to collect $143.5 million at the box office. It also earned four Oscar nominations for picture, director, actress and screenplay plus a win for Cody's first script.
This year, the three Juno-teers are back. But they are employing a divide-and-conquer strategy at the 34th edition of North America's foremost fest that starts Thursday and wraps up Sept. 19. Each has a distinctively different film, all among the big must-sees.
Oscar rumbles already have begun for Reitman's Up in the Air, a comedy/drama with George Clooney as a professional downsizer whose greatest joy is racking up frequent-flier miles. Just two weeks ago, the filmmaker was rushing to finish in time for the Saturday premiere.
"That's how important Toronto is for me," says Reitman, a Canadian raised in L.A. whose debut, Thank You for Smoking, sparked a bidding war. "I consider it the birthplace of my movies. When I write and direct, I think of those people sitting in the Ryerson Theatre. It's my gauge for whether I am being dramatic or honest enough. I trust the audiences in Toronto to be open to my kind of film."
Page, also Canadian, plays a beauty-pageant regular turned roller-derby dynamo in WhipIt, co-star Drew Barrymore's directorial debut that takes its public bow Sunday.
"I think audiences will be blown away by this incredible sport portrayed in the movie," she predicts of the comedy, one of the several female coming-of-age tales at the fest. "It is the kind of film that creates strong camaraderie amongst friends, especially girls."
During her first visit in 2007, Cody was thrilled to see one of her movie heroes, Italy's primo fear-monger Dario Argento, present his Mother of Tears at the Midnight Madness portion of the festival. Tonight, she'll stand in that same spotlight with Jennifer's Body, a comedic horror thriller produced by Reitman and starring Megan Fox as a satanic high school flesh eater. "It's pretty freaky," she says of the opening-day honor. "I can't believe it is all happening."