Easy A


Once I’ve pointed out that Easy A is a loving send-up to 80s Teen sex comedies, that Emma Stone is cute, charming and that her enthusiasm is infectious, that this film, for all its superficialities, had me smiling from beginning to end, that the writing is somewhat in the Diablo Cody vein while not being as obnoxious, I’m wondering what I’ll have left to say to flesh this review out enough to, you know, actually post it. That’s the funny thing about entertainment; when it works—I mean “works” in the sense that you find yourself genuinely enjoying the production while it’s happening and forgetting about everything else—you’re not left with a lot to say about from an analytical, critical perspective. I guess, depending on your own point-of-view, this can be either positive or negative. I’m torn on the issue, because the child in me that just watches movies for enjoyment is thrilled (even if fleetingly), while the critic in me is frustrated… please, my readers, sympathize with my enjoyable pain.

Ok, so let’s burn up some word count on a plot synopsis (remember, man, contractions are evil and a multitude of qualifiers and attempts at humorous asides are your best friend… you know, like this): Emma Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a witty, wholesome 17-year-old high-schooler in Ojai, California. One day, she makes up a lie that she has a date with a freshman in college to get out of going camping with her best friend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). When Rhiannon gets back, she senses that Olive lost her virginity, and demands she tell her all about it. So, Olive makes up another lie that gets overheard by the school’s Jesus freak, Marianne (Amanda Bynes) who, of course, quickly spreads the rumor.

When Olive helps out Brandon (Dan Byrd), a young homosexual who wants to fit in, Olive’s reputation as a slut quickly spreads through school, and she begins taking payment just so boys can say they’ve slept with her. This takes a turn for the worse when she gets mixed up in the relationship between Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow), the school counselor, another student, Micah (Sam Gigandet), and Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church). She also has to deal with the principal, Mr. Gibbons (Malcolm McDowell), as well as her way-too-cool parents, Dill (Stanley Tucci) and Rosemary (Patricia Clarkson), and her long time crush, Todd (Penn Badgley).

Easy A is one of those films where the writing and acting stands out as being paramount to the film’s success. There are directorial touches here and there (such as an ingenious montage of Olive getting Natasha Bedingfield’s Pocketul of Sunshine stuck in her head), but you certainly don’t come into this film expecting Bergman or Kubrick. John Hughes would be a more appropriate comparison, but Gluck rarely even attempts Hughes’ more psychological and dramatic touches. Even if the film’s inspirations are rooted in the 80s, the carefree, almost too-smart-for-its-own-good tone seems much more indebted to modern teen comedies. That lack of dramatic weight will either be the film’s greatest strength or flaw, depending on your perspective. On the one hand, it never crosses into any kind of eye-rolling melodrama or sentimentalism, but, on the other hand, the constant light tone makes it feel like a really selective, artificial take on the subject.

Much of that artificiality is attributed to the writing, which is more concerned with being witty and reverently irreverent (or vice-versa, I’m not sure which) than capturing any darker truth about the teenage experience. I would say the same thing about Easy A as I did about Juno when it came out, and that’s that your enjoyment of it will likely (perhaps solely) depend on how much you can tolerate smart writing that is clearly designed to be smart rather than realistic. Personally, listening to such dialogue is a bit like listening to a play performed in Early Modern English; at first, you’re turned off by the realization that it’s not organic (at least, to our ears), but after a while it just becomes organic to its own fictional world.

The film (smartly) acknowledges its similarities to The Scarlet Letter and, indeed, the novel becomes a running joke in the film. Writer Bert V. Royal said Easy A was the first script he decided to write that was, essentially, a modernized update of a classic novel. Not having read the novel, I can’t say just how many parallels there are, but considering that the film seems intent on drawing out the most relevant ones, I doubt viewers will miss any important, hidden allusions. In fact, the film’s overall tendency to wear its influence and allusions on its sleeve is part of a slightly disturbing trend in modern film, at least in the respect that it doesn’t seem to respect viewers enough to let them discover anything themselves.

But even with my gripes about the writing and the obviousness and the artificiality, all is forgiven when the films are this funny and charming. Much of the credit is due to Emma Stone who plays Olive with a natural ease and grace that convinces me (perhaps, just enough so) that her, or at least her character, could actually be that smart. The strong supporting cast doesn’t hurt either, even if the other characters are as flimsy as cardboard. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson get the most praise for playing Olive’s parents in a way that, as Emma herself said, helps explain Olive’s character (though I still don’t know where in the world there are parents as liberal and cool as this pair). Malcolm McDowell and Thomas Haden Church are also great in two extremely underutilized roles as well.

The funny thing about Easy A is that, if I really wanted to, I suspect I could easily turn my cinephile microscope on it and dissect its flaws much more ruthlessly than I’ve done. Besides the potentially annoying writing and superficial direction, the screenplay and structure seems rather incoherent and repetitive, lacking enough progression and development to fill out the entire runtime in a satisfying manner. There are occasional continuity errors, and the entire Kudrow/Church/Gigandet/Stone sub-plot is disastrously handled. Yet, for all of this, I still can’t help but whole-heartedly recommend the film because it was just so enjoyable. I rarely find myself uttering these words, but this is a film where I’d recommend just turning your brain off and tuning your funny bone up. If you don’t find yourself under its spell, then you’re more of a hard-hearted cynical bastard than myself.


About Jonathan Henderson
I'm a dedicated aesthete that's been fascinated with the arts since I was in my early teens. At 13 I saw my first foreign film, which ignited my passion for world cinema. I also discovered the enormous world of music out there and fell in love with everything from death metal to classical. My love for literature has especially grown in recent years, and I've taken up writing (and working really hard at) poetry. But over the past 12 years I've probably taken to film criticism more than anything, and seeing Neon Genesis Evangelion reignited my love for the arts (especially film) and took it to an even higher level. Now I write film reviews for two sites, including this one and Cinelogue. I play poker professionally, and while the world of arts and poker don't seem to converge much, I have taken the deductive and inductive logic that poker requires and attempted to apply it to all the arts as well as my criticism in an attempt to get past the jellybean syndrome ("I like blue jellybeans, you don't, and that's all we can say.").

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: