Who’re you calling easy?
Actress Emma Stone has been rising in fame for the last few years, with notable parts in comedies like Superbad and Zombieland. The year 2010 was a big one for her, with a major starring role in Easy A. With her dark red hair (not really a redhead, you say?), expressive eyes, smoky voice, and sharp comedic timing, she’s on the brink of superstardom. But does the movie make the grade?
Olive Penderghast (Stone) is an ordinary teen girl, convinced that no one ever notices her at school. One day, to get out of spending the weekend with her friend’s weird parents, she tells a little white lie—that she has a date with a college guy. Maintaining that lie leads to more lies, about having sex with said nonexistent college guy. The story spreads, and now everyone believes that Olive is the school slut. At first, Olive revels in her newfound notoriety, donning a red letter “A” in the style of The Scarlet Letter, but wearing it as a badge of honor instead of shame. She uses her new persona to engage in fake sex with guys who are losers or persecuted, to improve their social status. Olive’s lies get out of control, however, and people’s lives are affected, and not in a good way. Will the truth set Olive free, or is her dishonesty all she has left?
If nothing else, Easy A is a star vehicle for Emma Stone. She’s required to carry the whole movie, as everything centers around her character. Stone walks a fine line, worldy and sarcastic one minute and vulnerable and insecure the next moment. At times, this is close to being contradictory, but Stone pulls it off for the most part. If nothing else, the actress certainly has charisma to spare, nailing both the wisecracks and the heartache in equal doses.
It gets dicey when trying to sort out just what the movie is trying to say. The movie isn’t really about sex, but about attention. Olive begins the plot believing no one notices her. When her infamy brings her a ton of attention, it’s great fun for her at first. Then, she has to learn the hard lesson that a lot of young people learn—there’s a difference between good attention and bad attention. Being the most talked about girl in school might seem exciting, but it comes with a steep price. Once Olive learns this, the humor of the story comes from her constant juggling act of trying (and failing) to set things right while still maintaining the lie.
Realism is not a friend to this movie. The whole thing exists in a heightened reality, where the fourth wall is paper thin and the characters are always this close to admitting they know they’re in a movie. Everyone is beyond self aware, to the point where the movie is practically parodying the concept of self awareness. Whenever there’s a teen movie cliché, one of the characters immediately points how it’s a teen movie cliché, as if hoping to beat the audience to punch. The movie’s love the John Hughes films of ’80s is beyond evident, with songs and even clips from those classics playing during key moments, woven into the film to reflect Olive’s state of mind. Part of this is an overt homage, but part of it is meant to illustrate how a real high school life is not like a John Hughes movie, unless, maybe, you get out there and make it one.
The hyper-real attitude extends to a lot of the dialogue. The banter between Olive and her friends takes heightened teenspeak to new levels, while of course constantly dropping the required pop culture references. The adults, meanwhile, are given a string of head-spinning non-sequitors to befuddle our teen heroes. Fortunately, these roles are filled by a bunch of capable comic talents, bolstering the young cast, including Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways), Malcolm McDowell (Tank Girl), Lisa Kudrow (Friends), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), and Patricia Clarkson (Whatever Works).
Religion plays a key role in the movie, and the creators take a decidedly single-minded approach to it. A group of Christian students, led by the do-goody Marianne (Amanda Bynes, Hairspray) are downright hostile toward Olive for Olive’s phony promiscuity. According to this movie, anyone religious is a complete lunatic with little sense of reality, and in this movie, that’s saying a lot. This is all played for laughs and silliness, of course, as the religious folks are depicted as perpetually clueless, it’s just that this one-sidedness goes against the overall themes and ideas the movie presents elsewhere. I’m not a religious person at all, and yet it still kind of bugs me that not one Christian in this movie even tries to be sympathetic or understanding, but instead they’re all clownish idiots?
On DVD, the movie looks and sounds great, with a lot of bright, vivid colors, and pumpin’ rock tunes on the soundtrack. The jokey commentary, with Stone and director Will Gluck (Fired Up!), is a strange one. There are several times when the commentary pauses, only to have Stone and Gluck announce “And we’re back.” Apparently, lawyers were present during the commentary recording, and kept insisting that parts of it had to be cut out and redone because Stone and/or Gluck said something they shouldn’t have. Or maybe they’re just messing with us. The jokey tone continues through other extras, a gag reel (with a lot more swearing than the actual movie) and Stone’s audition footage. There’s also a gallery of trailers for other Sony releases and a descriptive audio track.
When a movie is really great, there’s a whole list of reasons why it’s great. When a movie is terrible, there’s a whole list of reasons why it’s terrible. Then there are movies like Easy A. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a pleasant diversion. For every part that didn’t work for me, there was something else I enjoyed. If this is your type of flick, give it a spin. If not, you’re not missing much.