Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie #238: Easy A

Easy A is a high school comedy starring Emma Stone, Aly Michalka, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Penn Badgley, Thomas Haden Church, and Lisa Kudrow.

Olive (Stone) lies to her best friend Rhiannon (Michalka), saying she has a date so as to avoid going camping with Rhiannon's hippy parents. The lie snowballs, and thanks to horrifying Jesus-freak Mary Ann (Bynes), people start looking at previously unimpressive Olive as a tramp. She compounds the problem when she pretends to bang her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) at a party, and later begins accepting payment (in the form of gift cards) so that nerdy guys can say they've slept with her. Olive is still a virgin, and comes from a very stable, loving, supportive home - her parents (Tucci and Clarkson) are perhaps not quite as involved as they should be, but they're quite willing to let Olive sort out her problems.

I mention that because it's obvious that Olive's quirkiness is a trait she comes by honestly; her home is sex-positive and her parents trust her, and she, in turn, trusts herself. It works for the character, but it also means she gets in over her head - she gains a reputation as the school slut, sews a scarlet A onto her clothes (her class is reading The Scarlet Letter), and plays the role. But then her favorite teacher (Church) has her talk to his wife, the guidance counselor (Kudrow) and it comes out that she (the counselor) slept with the 21-year-old boyfriend of Mary Ann, and gave him an STD. Not wanting to break up her teacher's marriage, she agrees to take that bullet and say she did it, but when she finally has enough and tries to pull the plug on the whole charade, no one will vouch for her.

The stakes in the movie are pretty low. We get to see the kids who might not survive high school, either because of being bullied (like Brandon) or just having a crappy time of it. Stone's character kind of drifts between them; she's not a nerd, she's not popular, she's just kind of there - good student, but not much clique identity. She narrates the story, though, through a webcast, which turns out to be her telling the truth to everyone, and eventually riding off on a lawn mower with her longtime crush, Todd (Badgley).

Easy A owes a lot of 80s high school movies, and it's entirely up front about that - Olive laments that her life isn't directed by John Hughes, and the movie features a lot of callbacks to Ferris Beuller's Day Off and other such films. The movie also owes a lot to The Scarlet Letter, obviously, but it doesn't have nearly the same gravity - Olive hasn't slept with anyone, and so regardless of what she's telling people and what angst she's going through, she hasn't actually taken that plunge.

The strength of the movie is in the acting and the dialog. The banter is witty, the cast seems to be having a great time, and Stone manages to make Olive appropriately teen-angsty within getting whiny or emo. I have a hard time with a couple of things, though.

First is that Olive was ever not noticed. Emma Stone is freaking beautiful, and it's highly unlikely that, in high school, hanging out with Rhiannon (also beautiful), she'd have been missed. Second is that the school is so entirely non-threatening. The scary clique are a bunch of Jesus-junkies, and Brandon talks about being bullied, but we don't see it and we don't see anyone who's even remotely trying to do it (we see that he's been in a fight early in the movie, but it's quick and we barely see the other guy). The principal (a cameo by Malcolm McDowell) talks about "keeping the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe," but really? In Ojai, California?

Pretty minor complaints, though. All in all, it's a fun movie. I wish the studio had let the writer and director get away with making it R-rated, because it sometimes feels like it wants to be.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Gattaca