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Entries in Easy A [2010] (1)

Monday
Sep202010

Easy A (2010)

Hip to the Kids

I find Easy A’s critical acclaim disturbing, but not surprising.  It stars Emma Stone, the sassy breakout starlet of Zombieland, as a wisecracking high-schooler; her parents are played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson; her English teacher and guidance counselor are played by Thomas Hayden Church and Lisa Kudrow, respectively.  The participation of these indie-cred-heavy actors is designed to attract the hipsters and grownups that wouldn’t be caught dead at this movie unless Rolling Stone and USA Today said it was cool.

The problem is, there’s nothing indie or interesting about Easy A.  It’s a terribly plotted, laugh-free cautionary tale that’s confused about its own message.  Don’t let the Juno-esque rapid-fire dialogue fool you:  the script brims with 50-cent words and snarky snark-isms, but the well-tuned ear will notice very little actually being said.

Okay, maybe that’s not fair; the movie tackles some real social issues with its story of Olive (Stone), a too-smart-for-her-peers outcast who helps her closeted gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) stop getting bullied by pretending to sleep with him.  She immediately develops a reputation as the school slut (the film’s word, not mine), and begins fake-whoring herself out to every nerd who wants to be seen as a stud.  These are both hard-hitting plotlines that are destined to make Easy A the resonant teen comedy of 1973.

I graduated high school in ’95 and counted among my friends a gay kid and several sexually active girls.  Strangely, my lunch hours weren’t filled with stories of hate crimes or tearful “no-one-will-look-me-in-the-eye-‘cause-I’m-such-a-tramp” therapy sessions.  And considering the fact that Easy A takes place in Ojai, California and not Bumblefuck, Tennessee, I find it really hard to believe that these are hard-hitting concerns in 2010 (seriously, there are no other gay kids in a well-to-do SoCal high school?).

Of course, we’re not meant to think about such things while watching the movie.  We’re supposed to revel in Olive’s cute decision to embroider a red “A” on her clothing, as she wears her newfound promiscuity on her low-cut tops.  She’s reading The Scarlet Letter in English class, you see; if you just rolled your eyes at the thought of watching yet another high school movie whose central theme is dictated by the book the kids are studying in English class, let me assure you that Easy A totally sidesteps the problem—via more snarky voiceover by Olive, where she bemoans that very thing; thus allowing the movie to drive this tired convention further into the ground with a clean conscience.

Speaking of clean, I should mention Olive’s rivalry with Marianne (Amanda Bynes), a fundamentalist Christian and the head Ojai’s purity club.  In an average movie, this person would be a cardboard archetype who quotes scripture and prays for wayward souls, while in practice being a vile human being unaware of their own hypocrisy.  Since Easy A is a below-average movie, we don’t even get the requisite change of heart/comeuppance at the end that defines any good villain; Marianne is still an oblivious shrew.  For a more satisfying version of this same, exact role, see Mandy Moore in Saved.

Marianne is important to the story, though, because she punctuates the ridiculousness of its conceit.  When her boyfriend lies about having sex with Olive to cover up a case of chlamydia that he got from his guidance counselor, Marianne orchestrates a school protest—complete with signs reading “Slut!” and “Whore!”.  In real life, such an outburst would likely have been met with A) vicious mockery by the student body, B) punitive action by the school administration, or C) both.

But this isn’t real life, and you need look no further than the student/counselor affair for more proof.  It’s a surprising development, and for a moment, I thought the film would delve into some more adult territory; after all, the guidance counselor is married to Olive’s English teacher, and Olive says in her voiceover that their marriage ended “because of” her.

The problem is there’s no evidence on screen to suggest what happened to these characters.  Did they really get divorced?  Did they fight for a while and then make up?  We have only Olive’s unreliable word as narrator; it wouldn’t surprise me to think that—as immature as she is—her idea of adult relationships begins and ends with absolute fidelity, with no gray areas or room for forgiveness.  She’s a teenager, after all, and the world (of the movie) revolves around her.

As for the other adult characters, does anyone know if either Stanley Tucci or Patricia Clarkson recently renovated a home or put in a new swimming pool?  What other reason could they have for appearing in a movie that asks nothing more of these fine actors than to embarrass themselves for money?  They play Olive’s parents as cartoon characters who joke about everything and consider themselves so hip and progressive because they adopted a black kid.  Sure, they bubble over with love and chardonnay, but I didn’t see one act of real parenting in their fifteen minutes of screen time.  Tucci and Clarkson play down to the material as if they think they’re appearing in a Disney Channel sitcom—but even the adults on iCarly aren’t this broadly drawn.

I’ve strayed way off the topic of Easy A’s story here, and I apologize.  But since I’m on a roll…

The film’s one revelation is that product placement is back and better than ever.  TiVo and DVR thought they’d crushed the commercial with their bee-boop-bi-doop fast-forward technology.  But the American corporation will not be defeated, as evidenced by Olive’s decision to not accept cash for her “sexual favors”.  Instead, she gets paid in gift cards, which affords her the opportunity to use the phrases “Home Depot”, “Amazon.com”, and “Bath and Bodyworks” frequently (she also holds up a bottle of body wash from B&B and raves about the bargain she got at the store).  It’s fucking gross, and I was surprised to see the characters eating at a Red Lobster knock-off instead of at the real thing (maybe the shareholders read the script and had the good taste to pass).

Oh, I also learned that there’s no stalgia like nostalgia.  Easy A has the balls to show clips from four classic teen films, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day OffSay Anything, and Can’t Buy Me Love.  Olive references these while lamenting the fact that her life isn’t like one of these movies.  Sadly, her movie isn’t like one of those movies, either; though it really wants to be.  Sure, the film ends with Olive on the back of a riding lawnmower driven by her new boyfriend, Todd (Penn Badgley)—who’d just appeared in her yard holding up a pair of speakers blasting a song—and they both pump their fists in the air, Judd-Nelson-style.  But all this does is draw attention to the fact that Easy A, instead of creating an original, memorable ending, had to rip off the endings of far better films.

I find it really weird that Badgley agreed to star in this movie (well, “star” might be pushing it; he has maybe four scenes lasting two minute each that are supposed to establish him as the love of Olive’s life).  He’s the lead on the TV show Gossip Girl, which is also about kids in high school who spread scandals like wildfire and seek to destroy each other for social gain.  The difference is Gossip Girl, for what it is, is a well-written, believable show.

I can sense more eye-rolling.  But it is because I’m immersed in the Low Culture of teen melodramas that I was able to spot Easy A as a phony during the opening credits.  This movie will only come as a refreshing break from stale teen comedies to people who don’t regularly indulge in teen comedies, or shows targeted at that demographic in general.  There are lots of shows that deal honestly with issues of promiscuity, homophobia, and student/teacher liaisons, and they’re often entertaining, too.  They may be soapy fantasies about impossibly beautiful people, but they’re at least relatable on some level. 

Unlike Easy A, where our heroine is branded for life because she fake-slept with a guy at a party; it’s especially insulting when we find out that the girl hosting the party is known for getting busted every week for having sex in her parents’ pool.  There’s nothing easy about trying to reconcile that premise.