Just got back from seeing Easy A, and it was as entertaining as I hoped it was. Thought-provoking, too.
Emma Stone proves herself a movie star by carrying the film, with so much of the focus on her character Olive, although her supporting cast is excellent — parents Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci; fellow students Amanda Bynes (in her final film, if she stays retired from acting), Penn Badgley (who’s apparently aging backwards, since he’s gone from playing college students to high schoolers all the time), and Aly Michalka; and school staff Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, and Malcolm McDowell. They do excellent jobs with what are sometimes plot-device roles. Church, particularly, is the teacher we all wish we’d had, hip and approachable, while Tucci and Clarkson play perhaps the most unusual good parents I’ve ever seen on film. Even so, as in many California pop culture families, Stone is more adult than her guardians, which means she has nowhere to go for help when she needs some sensible advice.
You’ve probably already heard about the plot: Stone allows people to believe she slept with a gay classmate in order to prevent his harassment. This gets her a reputation as a slut and brings her into conflict with Bynes’ self-righteous Christian classmate. Stone, previously overlooked at school, plays up the attention by adding a red A to her remade outfits, since the English class is reading The Scarlet Letter. The key question is, is it better to be known for the wrong thing than to be anonymous?
(In an odd “only on screen” twist, Stone’s slutty wardrobe mostly consists of corset tops and black pants, which means she’s sometimes wearing more than the miniskirt-sporting girl evangelicals who are chastising her.)
As with many other roles in this movie, Dan Byrd’s on-screen time is more limited than I would have liked, but he does create some surprising depth in the short time he’s given as the gay friend. (Byrd is also the son on Cougar Town.) Michalka, now starring in the surprisingly good cheerleader show Hellcats, is another odd role, first the best friend, then dropping out of sight only to have a character makeover. I’m not sure the basis for her mood changes is really supported by what we see and are told, but some of her lines are excellent, as when she accuses Stone of “throwing her cat at everyone”. I suspect that the filmmakers took on a bit too much, what with tackling the hypocrisy of teen sexuality and popularity hierarchies and the way rumors spread and a late ridiculous plot twist. Still, the kids felt more realistic to me than in many other movies aimed at this age group.
Like its heroine, who spends a good deal of her time talking to the camera in a supposed webcast, the movie is very aware of itself and its influences. Stone calls herself the “gossip girl in sweet valley of the traveling pants”, for instance. I was surprised to see how much of this movie pays homage to the teen classics of the 80s, including Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, and the often-overlooked Can’t Buy Me Love.
Given its theme of camouflaged teen prostitution, this might be Easy A‘s nearest filmic relative. It’s neat that teens looking for guidance would find movies that were considered throwaway at the time to have had such lasting influence. Strangely, during the angry sewing scene (an acting challenge Stone rises to), I was reminded most of Pretty in Pink, which I don’t recall making the list of great teen films Stone lists or watches. And I felt sorry for Michael Schoeffling, Jake in Sixteen Candles, because while other actors in Stone’s movie list get credited by name, he’s just “Jake from Sixteen Candles“. Although I had to look him up, so I guess that proves the point.
Me, I was reminded of the overlooked Charlie Bartlett. In that film, the lead gets himself in trouble trying to help out his classmates with mood stabilizers, not sex, but both show an extraordinarily difficult teenage world struggling with a solution promoted irresponsibly by the media. There’s lot that can be analyzed and talked about after seeing Easy A, including the idea that sometimes it’s better to lie to survive a difficult situation (like high school). The movie seems to say that once you know who you are, you don’t necessarily have to share that true self with others. Or you could just enjoy the jokes, as when the parents, in front of a younger brother, are trying to guess which T-word was the bad one that got Stone in trouble with the principal.
What I appreciated most about the film was the message that what will get you through growing up most is intelligence and a sense of humor. It was a welcome change to see someone playing a smart girl as a lead role without having to be punished for it or hide it. Her intelligence is never in question, and that and her caring heart eventually bring her to a good end.
There’s also a lot of subtext about our sexualized teen culture, with kids having both too much and not enough information and experience. They may know how to pretend to be a worldly adventuress (to use an extremely old-fashioned phrase), but they don’t know how to protect themselves while doing it. Or who to believe, as rumors spread immediately and are taken as fact by anyone who hears them. What people believe about you affects how they treat you, which changes what you can do. Saying “I don’t care what people think about me” is easy, but actually living that way is hard. Oddly, Stone is supposedly a slut, but her costumes are oddly quaint while her classmates are running around in push-up bras under skimpy tank tops accompanied by very short skirts. (Even the supposedly spiritual.)
Speaking of which, I appreciated that Bynes does at one point cite the real scripture, that Christians are commanded to love others, including homosexuals and whores, but she goes on to fret over how hard it is because they’re all doing it all the time. That makes her intolerance more clearly the actions of a frustrated virgin, less an indictment of anyone who’s religious.