'Juno' principals back to Toronto

Reitman, Cody, Page return with pics of their own

TORONTO -- In a strange alignment of the planets, the $227 million global boxoffice sensation "Juno" will see its three principals strike out with their own pictures at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Two years after "Juno" was launched in Toronto (after a sneak screening at Telluride) and went on to become an awards-season breakout, director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody and star Ellen Page are bringing their first post-"Juno" features to the Canadian hotspot.

In the process, an intriguing subplot is developing: Which of the "Juno" principals can come away with the prize this year?

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Reitman -- who launched another pic at Toronto in 2005, the morality satire "Thank You for Smoking" -- is back with the topical "Up in the Air." Like "Juno," the George Clooney-starring "Air" blends comedy and drama: Clooney plays a man who flies around the world firing people on behalf of corporate clients. The film, which Paramount opens in December, sneaked at Telluride during the weekend on its way to Toronto.

Cody picked up an Oscar -- along with some backlash -- for her mouthy, pun-filled dialogue in "Juno." (Notable line, from a pregnant teenage Page: "You know they call me the cautionary whale.")

Cody's new movie, "Jennifer's Body," is a comedy about a cheerleader who begins knocking off boys in her school after she becomes possessed. The filmmakers are hoping to achieve cult status similar to another bloody teen comedy with a darkly comic tone, "Heathers."

 
Diablo Cody (left), Ellen Page and Jason Reitman (Getty)
Page, meanwhile, has rocketed to fame since "Juno." A serious actress in pics like the coming-of-age drama "Hard Candy," she found herself with a plethora of offers in the wake of her star turn (and best actress nom) in 2007.

Page took a role in Sam Raimi's camp horror pic "Drag Me to Hell" only to drop out; she did, however, sign on for the lead in "Whip it," Drew Barrymore's comedy about an all-girls roller-derby team that will play in the fest's Midnight Madness section. (She's also stars in the thriller "Peacock" and Christopher Nolan's "Inception.")

Of the three entries in the "Juno" redux sweepstakes, Reitman is the early favorite. His movie rides into town after glowing reviews in Telluride. And the Toronto native is beloved at his hometown fest.

But "Whip It" could also sneak up and become a fest fave. Like "Juno," it showcases Page as a suburban kid who finds solace in rebellion -- in this case, roller derby.

And while the film likely won't be an awards contender, it's going to be a priority for Fox Searchlight, a company with a track record in marketing quirky comedies (see "Juno").

" 'Whip It' has got a great cast and plays to a broad audience," Searchlight co-topper Nancy Utley said.

"Jennifer's Body," a Fox Atomic production that is now being handled by big Fox, could be a tougher sell. The early word from screenings has been mixed, and Cody's is a volatile stock. The film stars Megan Fox, however, a proven draw among males.

Reitman said "Juno" helped pave the way for his new pic.

" 'Juno's' success has given me the freedom to make 'Up in the Air' in the most personal way possible," he said.  For all their separateness, there are plenty of lines crossed between these three efforts -- Reitman, for instance, produced Cody's "Jennifer's Body" -- making it more of a friendly competition than anything else.

And it's not like any of these movies has to replicate the "Juno" blueprint. Even nabbing a small piece of "Juno's" success could make for a very happy whale.
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