Friday, September 17, 2010

Easy A

As teen comedy send-ups of classic literature, Easy A is more of 10 Things I Hate About You (riffing on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew) than Clueless (the master class re-working of Jane Austin's Emma.)  A sunny, self aware trifling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Easy A also works as an amalgam of nearly every teen entry of the last twenty years, calling attention to it's very cliches, before honoring them with great reverence.  However, there's an ace in the hole, thanks to it's star, Emma Stone, who ponces and roars with terrific comedic timing and nimble charm.  If the films only works as a solid starring vehicle for a gifted young actress, there are worse cinematic crimes, and all the hogwash is easily and tastefully washed down thanks to the smart, husky voiced talent of an actress owning her silly film with such wit and aplomb.

Stone plays Olive, a high school wallflower who becomes a 21st century Hester Prynne when a little lie unleashes an scandalous reputation.  Soon the virginal Olive becomes a mark for unpopular, oppressed boys who happily fete her to service their own sad high school lives-- there's the gay boy, the fat kid, the "fill-in-the-blank" minority.  Olive obliges, loving the attention and notoriety at first.  She even wears her own "A" to school.  Things of course turn very sour, thanks to a very real high school scandal.  The cluttered Easy A spouts out screen time to an over-zealous Christian clique (headed by queen bee Amanda Bynes), which is not nearly as pointed or well-observed as Saved! (2004) was, as well as other teen comedy mainstays-- kooky parents (serviced and salvaged by the acting gods of Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci), and the dreamboat suitor-to-be (Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley.)  Thankfully these predictable, duller moments are set with cinematic quotation marks, and Stone happily and blessedly spins her expository dialogue with such unexpected humor and peppery off-kilter charm.

The one part of Easy A that's a uneasy, and more my speed involves the guidance counselor (played by Lisa Kudrow) playing an uneasy game of her own, of which Olive (being the dutiful servant to the oppressed and unhappy) gets the rap for.  It's here where I felt the film could potentially be heading into the pantheon of it's ilk, but director Will Gluck (Fired Up) and writer Bert V. Royal either lost their nerve or interest in that film, deciding it best to keep the sun-sunshiny 80s pastiche going full steam.  Which is a shame considering Easy A, could have really used the whole pious Christian\The Scarlet Letter act for a stronger, more effective beat than it is.  Surely Kudrow would have been game-- in her brief appearance, she keeps her offbeat, beautifully observed absurdest humor (a nice counterpoint to Stone's) flowing strong.  I would have liked to have seen that film a lot more.

That being said, it's a pleasant, diverting movie.  And if one can get over various movie touchstones, I see Easy A being a solid TBS flick for decades.  So if one can get over a few obvious issues, for instance, the unfortunate filmic tactic of portraying beautiful, young women as homely, and the sight of 20-somethings playing high school students (I'll give Easy A a free pass on that one, for reasons I'll refrain from mentioning), the silver lining is the experience of watching a young, talented actress making her mark in a flattering and fittingly commercial way.  After years of solid supporting work is similar material (Superbad, Zombieland, The House Bunny), I humbly request that casting directors across this great land make proper use of Ms. Stone in the coming years, for I see a mature, game, seriously funny future.  However, Easy A is more of B-.

1 comment:

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