POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2010:
Top of the Class
Easy A is worthy of high marks
A Scarlett Letter. Emma Stone stars as Olivia, a relatively normal high school student who tells a little white lie to gain popularity in Easy A.
A common theme in movies set in the perilous world of high schools is what a miserable, tortuous experience being young and trapped in this teenage prison can be for some kids. There is a universal truth that spans generations, borders, languages and cultures: reputation is everything. Some people hold onto their reputation, protective and nurturing, like it's a delicate treasure. Others discard it, free of the weight but doomed to live out whatever perception has been etched in the minds of fellow students. No matter the direction, all reputations are monitored, assessed and plotted.
Easy A is a comedy about all the manipulations, misinformation and hypocrisy of a teenager's reputation. It delves into the fragile social machinations of high school life and is one of the most pleasant surprises I've had in a multiplex in 2010. The majority of recent teen-oriented films have left me disinterested and disappointed. Not Easy A. It is a sharp-tongued throwback, delivering pointed zingers at youth and adults alike, while also being funny and heart-warming.
Olive (Emma Stone, appearing slightly too old for the role) is suffering through her California high school life. She's getting by without attracting too much attention despite being attractive, smart, sassy and witty with favorite teachers. Mom and Dad (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) are an eccentric pair who are prone to bouts of too much confessional "straight talk." Olive's life might appear dull, she does spend a happy weekend dancing around to a musical card from Grandma, but at least it's wonderfully scandal-free.
That is until she decides to make up a story about losing her virginity with a fictional guy in community college to get her supposed best friend Rhiannon off her back about sex. In this age of a zillion ways to connect with friends via technology, rumor and gossip has never moved so lightning fast with the hyper-speed of social networks and the loose-lips (and texting fingers) of today's teenagers.
In the span of a few minutes, word gets out that Olive slept with an older guy and fellow students start flocking to her. Randy boys want in her pants; sanctimonious girls slander her while praying for her sinning soul. When Olive agrees to a fictional sexual liaison with a friend who is gay to stop his torment, she drops a nuclear bomb on her precious reputation. Olive goes from chaste virgin nobody notices to a hall walking harlot everyone can't help from noticing.
Blending in is the usual mode of survival for many teenagers in high school. Not for Olive. She happens to be reading the 1850 novel "The Scarlet Letter" in English class. Inspired by the treatment of its heroine Hester Prynne, Olive goes Project Runway on her wardrobe. She's soon walking around looking like a tarted up vamp (or, a "high-end call girl" as her dad points out), an unmissable "A" on the front of her chest.
Easy A is the sort of unexpected surprise that makes me remember why I love movies. Although I try to have an open mind about every film I see, disappointments are far too common when watching a mainstream movie. The bar is just set so low too frequently. Add in the fact that the teen genre usually has few lofty goals and it feels even better to watch a film that treats everyone involved on screen, the teens and the adults, with such a well-rounded degree of respect. When characters are funny, interesting and smart -- guess what? The film is funny, interesting and smart. It's not rocket science.
Easy A has some creative people behind it. It's directed by Will Gluck (who helmed the not so great teen film Fired Up) and written by Bert V. Royal (great name that makes me think it's made up -- Bert V. Royal?). Easy A is crisply paced, intelligent and has satirical barbs all the way through with one-liners from virtually everyone in the ensemble cast. There are a few genuine big laughs to be had and lots of little ones. Some of the holier-than-thou scenes are a little over the top and feel forced but it's a minor quibble.
One of my favorite things about Easy A is that it knows its place in the lexicon of "high school teen movie" and pays tremendous tribute to the zenith era of the genre -- the 1980s. No decade has delivered more classics from that genre and Easy A embraces all the films and attitudes that made those films so memorable. There's an actual montage in the film with scenes and music from a few of the holy grail teen films: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Say Anything and John Hughes all get their due. Thomas Haden Church's hip English teacher even quotes dialogue from The Outsiders.
Easy A is more than it appears to be. While telling the story, it digs into the whole notion of teenage identity as Olive grapples with who she is versus the appearance of who others "think" she is. They are disparate entities. Sure, it's a comedy about teens with plenty of ribald moments and hijinks but there's something deeper below the surface that help lift it higher than just being a fun film about a girl in high school.
Easy A charmed me from the start. It's quick and light yet has slightly more depth if you want to spot it. It's got everything you could want for a film set among teenagers: humor, snappy dialogue with brains and bite, characters that you empathize with and root for. How terrific it is to be thrown for a loop when watching something with bridled expectations. Easy A gets surprisingly high marks.
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