Sharp dialogue and a fiery redhead highlight an unexpected comedy surprise.
Nobody has been able to capture the facetious moments and day-to-day malaise of adolescence like John Hughes did in the 1980s. Films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club helped to define a generation. A generation that wishes it could be as unrestrained and live every moment like Ferris Bueller or wishes for just a little recognition on a sixteenth birthday.
A lot of films have tried to match the writer-director’s deftness at creating scenes that explore that youthful exuberance. Unfortunately, what we’re left with most of the time is sex comedies and romantic comedies without nearly the heart or humor. For every Clueless, which defined teenage life in ‘90s, there’s a Down to You or She’s All That. Actually, the output of teen comedies – let alone good-great teen comedies – in the last decade is small. So small, in fact, that it took me a few minutes to think of the teen films that defined the ‘00s. I was left with Superbad, Juno, and Mean Girls.
Easy A is a teen comedy that can’t be grouped in either subgenre mentioned, because there is no sex and romance is not an integral component to the story overall. The comedy is a charade that also pokes fun at religion and popular culture.
Emma Stone, who made her debut in Superbad, is Olive Penderghast, a student at Ojai high School who flies below the radar. She’s smart as a whip, but she’s a girl that nobody much notices. Like she tells the audience, “If Google Earth were a guy he couldn’t find me if I was dressed as a 10-story building.”
That all changes when she tells her best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), a teeny-tiny lie. No longer wanting to feel inadequate, Olive tells her she had a one-night stand with some college guy. Unlucky for her, though, the conversation was in the girl’s bathroom and is overheard by the school’s biggest Jesus fan, Marianne (Amanda Bynes). Now it’s not nice to tell tales outside of school, but inside the hallways everything is fair game. Even before the bell sounds the end of the next class period, Olive’s “sexcapade” is all over school. It is times like these where the ability to send text messages sucks. Now what would have taken a school day to reach its intended audience takes a matter of seconds.
With Pandora’s box clearly opened, Olive tries to diffuse the situation, but there’s a part of her that likes the attention. Soon she helps a gay friend (Dan Byrd) establish how “straight” he is by engaging in fake lovemaking at a high school party. The snowball effect takes over as Olive’s reputation diffuses reality. Her fake trysts with guys looking to get out of the batter’s box nets her rewards like gift cards to the Gap and T.J. Maxx, but the notoriety gained soon becomes too negative a burden to live with.
When talked about years from now, Easy A will be described as the film that was Emma Stone’s coming-out party as far as star presence goes. Alicia Silverstone and the “as-if” personality she brought to Clueless made her a star of the moment. Ellen Page in Juno made her recognizable to those that may have missed her in Hard Candy. She also got an Oscar nomination for her performance. Easy A is Emma Stone’s first true test at carrying a movie. And she just nails it. Her look, attitude and self-effacing wit, she is Olive Penderghast. Whenever she’s doing a web-cam or delivering some witty banter, it holds our attention, and she also knows how to hold her own with veteran thespians.
Emma Stone may be the star, but she has a lot of support from familiar faces. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci play her parents. Typically, the parents’ role is a non-entity in teenage comedies. It is assumed that angst has caused the relationship between child and parent to go from supportive to combustive. So, it’s nice to see a family dynamic in films where both the kids and the parents are all right with each other. Thomas Haden Church is Olive’s favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith, Lisa Kudrow is his wife, and the school’s guidance counselor. Malcolm McDowell, once ultraviolent in his Clockwork Orange days, is the head principal. How apropos.
Losing one’s virginity is commonplace for teenage comedies, but pretend sex from a female perspective feels fresh and original. Still, the filmmakers saw fit to include a romantic comedy subplot and broad humor to make it more appealing to teens. Older adults will enjoy the nods to movies and music of the ‘80s. In one scene near the end of the comedy, there is a moment that references Say Anything, Sixteen Candles and Can’t Buy Me Love at the same time. Olive even instructs the audience on how to properly cheat if studying The Scarlet Letter in English.
Easy A is a smart and rewarding comedy that doesn’t take its audience for granted. Teens may not get some of the jokes – “Kinsey sIx gay,” for instance – but this is truly a comedy with multiple demographics in mind. It may not become a box office smash, but its impact will be felt in the years to come.
Director: Will Gluck Notable Cast: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Alyson Michalka, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Penn Badgley, Thomas Haden Church, Malcolm McDowell, Lisa Kudrow Writer(s): Bert V. Royal
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!