REVIEWED: EASY A
October 22, 2010 Leave a comment
Honestly, how many high school films of the last decade have aptly defined our logged-in, switched off, Facebook-obsessed, YouTube-gawking generation? Aside from the modern comedy classic (yes, classic) that is Superbad, the pickings are depressingly slim. While the 1980s had the pantheon of John Hughes films to salivate over, and the 1990s had the slyly clever likes of Clueless, Election and American Pie, we get the admittedly quite fun Mean Girls and…the glut of increasingly bad straight-to-video American Pie sequels. Easy A is a clever, postmodern reprisal of the types of growing-up stories that Hughes made popular, and in Emma Stone (who concidentally had a supporting role in Superbad), director Will Gluck has uncovered a classically knowing, Hughesian lead.
Olive Prenderghast (Stone) is an unassuming, unpopular girl at her high school, noticed only by her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). However, this all changes when she is pressured to lie about losing her virginity, and this lie snowballs into something far bigger, as she lies to the whole school about her sexual escapades in order to help some of the nerdier kids at school to gain esteem with their peers, in exchange for cash and gift certificates. Consequences, however, inevitably abound, as the school’s militant Christians, led by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) attempt to get her removed from school for her activites, and Olive finds that her web of lies may very well affect the potential of a very truthful relationship with an old flame, Todd (Penn Badgley).
Easy A works fundamentally because, like any good high school comedy, it is written with a deep understanding of teenagers; their hang-ups, their lingo, and their very unique view of the world. Bert V. Royal’s script is knowing enough to not only present Olive as a postmodern, self-aware component of a high school movie (she frequently breaks the fourth wall and speaks to us, Ferris Bueller-style, even referencing Hughes’ films), but to also self-reflexively mock her to this effect. While we enjoy her smart-ass character, several moments successfully portray and then satirise her as a typical teenager of high intellect and alternative sensibilities, keen to rise above simple classification, though ironically falling victim to it; she is the staple “indie kid” – self-consciously precocious, often pretentious, and more than a little holier-than-thou (no matter how justified that sometimes is). Olive is charming and likeable enough thanks to Stone’s charm, and the screenplay is balanced enough to have Olive reap what she sows by film’s end, learning a few valuable lessons about privacy and inevitably being knocked down a few pegs.
In broader terms, the film is effective in depicting the vapid pointlessness of high school’s social structure; the nerdier, socially awkward students are depicted as merely trying to “survive” their final months before college, while those who “fit in” share a curious obsession with the fairly mundane details of their colleague’s sex lives. While it is a stretch to believe that an entire student body would ever care that much about whether a fellow student was having sex or not, it is evidently exaggerated for comedic effect, aptly exemplifying the tabloid-like fascination with the private lives of people whom they may not even like.
While other high school comedies strangely omit parents entirely, Easy A hits a home run with Olive’s, thanks to some fantastic casting; Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are wonderful in their few scenes as Olive’s delightfully weird mum and dad, demonstrating superb chemistry and making for quite the unconventional set of parents for a film like this (generally they are un-hip and strict). In fact, it is the adults who deliver many of the film’s most winning moments; Thomas Hayden Church is also very good as Mr. Griffith, Olive’s English teacher, and Lisa Kudrow is surprisingly effective in a serio-comic role that is a far cry from her work on Friends.
One of the smartest, funniest, and most dramatically effective high school films in years, Easy A squeezes every ounce of Emma Stone’s likeability for what it’s worth, and has a regard for character and consequence that is uncharacteristic for the genre. It has cult hit written all over it, and it deserves to do well.