Sunday, September 19, 2010

Easy A - Theatrical Review






Release Date: September 17, 2010


Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block
Time: 3:10pm - Friday September 17
Screen Type: Digital

Biases:
Loves: Emma Stone
Likes: John Hughes movies, Thomas Haden Church, the rare smart teen movie
Hates: Super self aware teen comedies, overly snappy dialogue


There seems to be a running theme in Hollywood where every new teenage star must get her first starring role in some sort of High School teenage comedy. This has been seen as far back as 1995 with Alicia Silverstone, and 2004 with Lindsay Lohan.. While both of those films were successful and have gone on to become classics in their respective genres, their stars haven't fared so well. Well, it is Emma Stone's turn at the helm with Easy A and what this film has going for it that the others didn't is a leading lady that has a certain amount of humility as an actor (her name in the opening credits comes up last) and a whole lot of charm. Despite having the extremely adorable Emma Stone as an ace up the sleeve though how does the movie actually stack up against those other classics...? Read on to find out...

Olive (Emma Stone) isn't what one would consider to be your typical High School girl. She doesn't really seem too caught up in the popularity contest as most HS girls often are. She would rather lie to her best friend about going out and having a wild weekend than actually doing it. Personality wise she is sort of a dork, but a cute one. She has a wit and sense of sarcasm about her that she uses to defend herself from just about anybody. By now you should be getting the sense that she is also kind of a loner.

Emma Stone makes every movie better.

That's not to say she doesn't have people that she interacts with though. She has quirky yet loving parents with Dill & Rosemary (Stanley Tucci & Patricia Clarkson) and an adopted African-American younger brother who just seems out of place (as a character mind you). Outside of her household there is the super self centered friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). She also has some run-ins with the ultra preachy official Christian of the school Marianne (Amanda Bynes) who has her own small little cult that she is in charge of.

You learn from the outset that our fair maiden Olive has gotten herself into a pretty bad spot. The film has Olive speaking directly to the audience in a sort of confessional style as she serves as our narrator throughout. The story she weaves starts with how she lied her way out of spending an agonizing weekend with Rhiannon's parents, while she was actually at home with her dog, painting her nails and singing along to a horribly catchy teen pop song. What she tells her friend ends up being the catalyst for everything that happens to her for the rest of the film.

Olive being the adorable dork during her "hot" weekend.

What is this horrible lie? She for no apparent reason (even to herself) decided to say she lost her virginity to some local college boy (that doesn't even exist). As luck would have it prying ears overhear the tale and it doesn't take long for the entire school to find out that she is not the good girl everyone thought she was. From that point forward Olive, the girl no one really ever noticed before, becomes the hottest gossip around. She starts getting approached by guys propositioning her whom she has never even seen before all the while the clergy of the school led by Marianne try to find some way to save her soul. Suffice to say that things start getting out of hand fast and she must find a way to dig herself out of the hole she has dug which keeps getting deeper all the time.

The film has a real sarcasm to it with how it deals with the subject of a High School girl taking advantage of getting a bad rep around campus. Olive never once finds her predicament to be a bad thing and finds different and new ways to actually make things worse. She not only pokes fun at how Marianne is constantly annoyed with her indiscretions but she revels in it. The scene with Marianne sharpening pencils over and over again in anger as she stares down Olive is priceless, especially with Olive's reactions to each pencil that is sharpened.  The real deal starts though when she takes a cue from the Scarlet Letter that she has been studying in her English class and embroiders a large red A on to her new sexy attire.

Olive being the bad girl everyone thinks she is.
She struts around school wearing that A proudly and pissing off Marianne in the process. What surprised me most from this though was that a lot of the humor in the film is derived from religion which was a big part of the Scarlet Letter. Now, I am not religious in the least yet even I could tell that the way Marianne and her group are shown here is a little bit of an exaggeration. Although with that being said there were some moments that seemed real familiar to me. Take this exchange with Marianne explaining to Olive why her 21 year old High School boyfriend hasn't been able to pass the tests he needs to in order to graduate.

Marianne, "He would have passed the tests by now if only God had given him the correct answers".
Olive, "What...? Are you serious?".

It's that kind of jab at religion that I found pretty funny since I have seen first hand accounts of people in the religious community use a line like that to explain away a lot of things or at least give credit for everything little thing in their lives to the big man upstairs. Then you have a scene where Olive desperately needs to find a pastor (who she calls a wizard by the way) to help sort things out and when she can't find one in one church she just runs down the street to the next one. The reason I found this hilarious is because there really are churches right next to each other yet each member of each church never visits any of the other churches around them and I found the way this was done here to be pretty dam funny.

Olive in full on Harlot mode and loving every moment of it.
Other comedic highlights include Olive's conversations with her teacher Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) with his rants and raves about how every kid in the world thinks that just because they went somewhere and bought something that it is important enough to post on the internet and let everyone know about it. Her interactions with the self professed losers of the school that proposition her and their methods of payments are also a riot. Lest I forget her parents that bring a whole different level of quirk to the film whenever they are on screen.

Now, I am not totally convinced at how much or even if this film resembles any of the classic John Hughes movies of the 80's but they sure as hell reference them enough. The film isn't subtle about those references either, Olive not only mentions such famous films as Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club but they also show scenes from them as well. As much as I dislike movies mentioning something done in a previous film and then doing the same exact thing itself like its being clever, I think this one handles it all with a bit of class that is usually lacking when such a thing is done.

Olive spending some quality time with the family.
As much as I love Emma Stone and wanted this movie to be perfect, that unfortunately has not happened. There are no real major problems with it, it moves along at a really good pace, it has some really good laughs, all the acting was spot on and it was all very sweet by the end. However there were some minor problems that I believe keep it from trumping those other films I mentioned at the beginning of this review, but they aren't big enough issues to keep it off the same pedestal though.

First of all, I find it kind of odd that they make Olive out to be a pretty self aware and smart girl yet for some reason she just keeps getting herself into more and more problems. The screenwriters cover themselves though rather cleverly by having her show a slight bit of hesitation each time she makes another bad decision...at first, but once she gets going it is full steam ahead. Only near the end does she start to see the error of her ways which is a common element in a movie like this. I only wish that she had more of a reason to do what she does other than wanting the bad girl reputation because she liked it.

Marianne rallies her troops to save Olive's soul.
Also, even though I mentioned how I liked the religious jokes, I do think that some of it was a little too broad for such a smartly written movie. In particular would be the little pow wow Marianne has with her group and how they communicate amongst each other. They sound like crazy people and while it is funny in a broad sense, it doesn't ever come off as even remotely real. Which is a shame because as much as I don't really care for Amanda Bynes, I thought she did a good job with what was given to her here. Oh, and the moment when Olive meets Marianne's dad was also kind of unnecessary.

The entire story sub plot surrounding the student counselor  Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow) could have been cut out of the movie altogether. Her character not only shows up very late into the movie, but doesn't really add anything to it. She doesn't help resolve anything, isn't really a good mentor and the way the movie handles her story later on kind of comes out of left field, but not in a good way. I would have much rather had more of Mr. Griffith talking with Olive and helping her out since those scenes were much more amusing and felt more real.

Olive negotiating with one of her loser suitors.

I found that the dialogue could sometimes veer off into that self aware jargon that was seen in stuff like Juno. That type of "hip" talk usually rubs me the wrong way with how unnatural someones pithy comebacks just roll off the tongue at a moments notice. This film never fully enters that territory thankfully but man does it ever come close. I would say the one saving grace is that unlike Ellen Page (whom I also adore by the way), Emma Stone's delivery isn't quite as insulting and seems more playful.

Then lastly we have "Woodchuck" Todd (Penn Badgley). The woodchuck part is due to him being the school mascot which used to be a blue devil but Marianne and her group had it changed to save the schools soul. Anyway, he appears randomly throughout the film and has these little insights to tell Olive and then disappears. He does this routine for the first 2/3 of the film and then magically the night Olive needs him most he is there to lift her back up which feels like a cheat with the way it was set up. I just never felt like this guy did anything  to win her affections other than looking hot and almost kissing her when they were younger.

I don't think this was the kind of attention Olive was looking for.
Wow, that was more issues than I thought I had with it, but you know what? None of that really matters...why? Because Emma Stone is all that matters and this is her movie. I would have probably loved this movie even if it didn't turn out to be any good (which it did thankfully). With her husky voice, fiery red hair, emerald green eyes and that amazing smile you just can't take your eyes off her. Her amazing physical attributes aside, she has this quality about her that just makes you wanna root for her. Even when she isn't being nice she goes off and does some sort of cute quirky thing that makes you love her still.

I know this review seems more like an Emma Stone love fest than anything, but truth be told the movie is a lot of fun. If you have seen any of those previous teen flicks I mentioned or if you like John Hughes even though this doesn't really feel like one you should end up enjoying it quite a bit I think. And to answer my earlier question, how does this movie stack up against those other teen classics? I think this movie has a lot of potential to become a classic like those other films and my initial gut feeling is that it succeeds at just about everything it does, but only time will truly tell how it ends up. To you Emma, I am rooting for you and I hope to see you in another starring role as soon as possible. Just please don't end up like those other two predecessors of yours and actually have a good long career. All that is left to say is...



CHECK IT OUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

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