Thursday, September 23, 2010

Easy A


There’s a moment in Easy A where the story’s hero Olive says that she wishes her life had been directed by John Hughes. In the reality of this film, it might as well have been. The gift of Hugh's films was his ability to combine the idealism that we love in the movies with just enough intelligence and humanity to make them feel as though they were talking to, not above or below, us. That’s Easy A’s gift as well, right down to the musical number, and it gets it right for maybe the first time since Juno. There are so few good films about teenage girls that are honest and sincere enough to be genuinely perceptive to their plights while also being funny and warm. Throw Easy A on that pile.
Olive (Emma Stone) is just your average teenage nobody until one day, trying to get out of spending the weekend with her best friend’s strange hippie parents, gets caught up in a lie about having lost her virginity. The little bathroom fib makes it’s way to the ears of the school Christian militant Marianne (Amanda Bynes) and soon the whole school knows about Olive and her faux sexcapdes, making her one of the most talked about girls at school. Finding herself in detention for mouthing off to one of the Christians in class, Olive becomes friends with Brandon (Dan Byrd) who is gay and tormented daily because of it. If she would pretend to have sex with him he could lose his reputation and live happily through the rest of high school. She agrees and soon is in business as guys of all different varieties give her gift cards in exchange for the privilege of telling people they hooked up with her. Their lives are better and her notoriety soars. As luck would have it, Olive is studying the Scarlett Letter in English class, a book in which its hero smears her good name and reputation in order to help those around her. Ah ha, parallels are brewing. Movies sometimes have a heavy handed way of using classroom scenes in order to bring in texts or theories that draw artistic and thematic parallels to the film itself. Some writers mistake this as being symbolic. Easy A however has the good sense, in that self-reflexive post modern way, to acknowledge itself as a modern day retread of the Scarlett Letter and works that into the story as the starting point instead of the whole one. So Olive, in an act of defiance, just like in the Scarlet Letter, embroiders a red A onto the corsets she wears to school. This works wonderfully well for Olive until she soon realizes that while everyone was interested in her for what she could do for their social lives, no one is really interested in anything more than that. Call it a critique on the state of our current superficial society in which sex tapes and tabloid exploits are the gauge from which we measure celebrity as opposed to, oh I don’t know, personality, talent, being a good person, etc. I also call it a lot of fun. Olive’s parents are played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as the kind of movie parents that everyone wants but so few ever really get. They are funny, smart, caring, supportive and understanding. Parents, especially dads, are so often the villains of films that these two are a blast of fresh air. In fact, all of the characters are refreshing. Sure the film sometimes feels like it is going through the motions of the plot (then again no one ever accused John Hughes of being a compass of daring and original work), but they all behave in that funny movie way that we love: they could never be mistaken as anything but movie characters, but they are the kinds whose company we love to be in.
The film is also hip and fresh in that smart and hilarious way that Clueless was in the 90s. But a few weeks ago I just got finished criticising Going the Distance for being too hip for it’s own good. Now here is another comedy that knows about books and movies and music (The Bible is in the best seller section of the local book store, right next to Twilight) but it manages to work them into the story in a way that makes them feel real and authentic. They add to the tone of the story. Sometimes when characters talk about pop culture they are just trying to be funny. Easy A is funny but it also creates the sense that these are smart kids who know how to effectively draw the lines between themselves and pop culture and the film ends with the biggest laugh maybe anyone has ever gotten out of Huck Finn. Mark Twain is out there, grinning somewhere.
Most of the film’s charm must be attributed to its star Emma Stone. Stone has been on the fringes of some good movies (Superbad, Zombieland) but is now on her way to stardom. Sometimes all it takes is for an actor to be in the right role at the right time and that’s what is happening here. Stone is funny and confident and cute and knows how to act in a way, that, although probably not realistic, is still believable in terms of teenage drama. Easy A is also a huge step up for it’s director Will Gluck whose previous credits include the horrible teen comedy Fired Up. Gluck directs this with the flair of a man who knows he needs to prove something. It’s like he’s apologizing for his past sins. Apology accepted.

5 comments:

  1. I loved this, how it at least tried to acknowledge some of the minor details of high school--how you'll rarely want to spend time with your best friends for an extended period, which is what really got me--though, as always, they all look thirty, and I don't know, kids in my school are too fickle to form any cliques, so...

    Right. This movie made me laugh.

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  2. "Now here is another comedy that knows about books and movies and music....but it manages to work them into the story in a way that makes them feel real and authentic."

    Yeah, exactly. It's not that it has to be perfectly realistic (I mean, can you really expect me to ever believe that Emma Stone could go unnoticed?), but it feels natural and easily pulls you along. The characters are based on familiar caricatures, but stepped down just a notch so they feel unique and you never quite know how they may react. Except Amanda Bynes' Christian character - I wish they had given her a bit more complexity (especially since I think Bynes has good comedic sense).

    Tucci and Clarkson are completely awesome. I've always loved Clarkson, but she's moved into the "slavish devotion" realm now...B-)

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  3. Simon-I was worried when the movie started out by talking about cliches which, now, has become a cliche unto itself. It however managed to win me over regardless.

    Bob- I agree with Bynes. Ultimately, the best way to parody people like that is simply to present them as they present themselves as opposed to going to charicature. Replace that character with Mandy Moore from Saved and the movie would be even better.

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  4. I LOVED your blog, am so glad I bumped into it.

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  5. Why thank you sir, glad to have you.

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