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Non-Review Review: Easy A

“Just once I want my life to be like an 80’s movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason,” Olive – our plucky teenage protagonist – moans at one point, before sadly reflecting, “But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life.” However, her life really isn’t that far off. Easy A recalls, in the best way possible, all those great teenage comedies from the eighties, like The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It isn’t that it’s a generic imitation – it works very well on its own merits, and selling it as a nostalgic trip doesn’t do the movie justice – rather that is displays a genuine understanding about the facts of being a teenager growing up and the way that social interactions work at that age.

Funny, my hairdresser gave me the same advice...

The movie essentially follows Olive as rumours of her promiscuity run rampant. Of course, Olive is still a virgin, but once rumours and lies get out control, it’s hard to contain them. After an innocent lie to a friend (in order to avoid an awkward camping trip) spirals out of control, Olive finds herself branded the school slut. Rather than fighting it, she finds a way to use the lie to help her friends and so it takes flight. Along the way, Olive finds some helpful parallels to The Scarlett Letter (which the movie cleverly and shrewdly plays with, while honestly acknowledging debts when they’re owed) and, of course, things end up getting a whole lot more complicated.

The movie’s plot and its central themes are all fairly straightforward and common – they certainly won’t take any viewers by surprise. However – as Hughes himself demonstrated two decades ago – it is execution that makes the difference. Easy A never claims to be ground-breakingly original, just a smart and sassy iteration of a familiar enough tale of teenage life. The script is witty and charmingly engaging – it acknowledges the many debts that it owes to both classical literature and to more modern cinematic comedies, but does so in a way which demonstrates its affection and understanding for these types of stories.

Like its central protagonist, Olive, the movie is a lot smarter than it lets on. At one point, her favourite teacher berates her for pretending not to have read her literature assignment, chuckling a bit at a smart little in-joke reference to the class’ assignment even as he expresses concern for her. Underneath the movie’s charming exterior (and there’s a lot of charm), it understands teenage life and how it works. The gossip, the fear of social rejection, the hypocrisy – they’re all there. And Easy A plays with them, never taking any of them too seriously.

Emma Stone makes this look easy...

Emma Stone confirms that she’s a talent to watch (as if Zombieland hadn’t done that all ready), turning in a performance as confident as and of Hughes’ leading actors. However, the film eschews a cadre of strong teenage actors in favour of a selection of superb adult supporting performers. Of particular note are Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Olive’s parents, who are those wonderfully cool and open-minded parents who make the job look easy (while apparently doing a damn fine job, in fairness). It’s also nice to see Thomas Haden Church give perhaps his best performance since Sideways – he’s a solid actor, but his movie choices… “aren’t all diamonds,” to quote him here. He’s great as Olive’s favourite teacher. There are also some nice little appearances from Malcolm McDowell and Lisa Kudrow.

The script scores points for managing to write its teen and adult character just as smart as each other. It’s all too frequent to see stereotypical portrayals of teens, but equally often the adult roles in films such as this will serve merely to make the children appear smarter. Easy A is set in a world where age doesn’t determine wit – Thomas Hayden Church’s Mr. Griffiths is every bit as quick-witted as Emma Stone’s Olive.

Easy A isn’t the most profound piece of cinema that you will see on the big screen this year (or even this month), but it is a sharp little movie that is head-and-shoulders above just about any teen comedy produced in the past couple of years. I have to admit that I really genuinely enjoyed it.

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4 Responses

  1. I enjoyed Easy A as well. It’s a witty, fluffy, smart little teen comedy that showcases Emma Stone’s talent. The main issue I saw was the use of the webcam as framing device. It just was lazy story-telling and made for some pretty corny moments at the end.

    • I think you’re right that the web camera was a tad cliché, but – and I say this well aware of how tasteless it will make me sound – sometimes that sort of cornball approach can be done well. I think Easy A did it well.

  2. I quite liked it, if I block out all the corny stuff at the end.

    • Ah no, it can’t be a good teen comedy without copious amounts of corn! I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

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