Thursday, October 7, 2010

Easy A: Sluts and Nerds Rule!

Easy A continues the trend of high-school flicks like Clueless and Juno about smart-mouthed, brainy high-school girls and their foibles. A kind of female Porky’s for the drama-club set, films like Easy A center on the outsiders, not the insiders, but offer the same kind of high-school love triangles, popularity issues, and show-downs at either the high-school dance or the big game. Instead of the nerds and outcasts being the antagonists (as they are in a film like Porkys), the bad-guys in these drama-club high-school films tend to be the jocks and the Christians, who in fair turnabout are portrayed in pure caricature. This film doesn’t disappoint.

While it may not have the wit-a-minute dialogue of Clueless or the clever hijinks of Juno (and the device of narrating the movie into a web-cam wears a bit thin), it holds its own, due largely to the engaging performance of Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) as lead character Olive, a girl whose lies about her dating life threaten to ruin her reputation.

Perhaps in attempt to embrace the literary kids in the audience, a reigning trope of these movies is to borrow some kind of high-school literature to mold the plot around (Jane Austin’s "Emma", in the case of Clueless: Othello and Taming of the Shrew have also served). In this case the English assignment is Nathanial Hawthorne’s "The Scarlet Letter" (there’s even a short summary of the plot, for those who haven’t read it). Olive’s problem, it seems, is that she’s invisible. And as Oscar Wilde said, “one can live down anything except a good reputation.” So she seeks, perhaps perversely, to go about destroying it. When the rumor-mill starts to fly around school that Olive is a slut (even though she hasn’t actually slept with anyone), she literally attaches a scarlet A to her dress, reveling in being the bad girl.

She finds, however, that she can use her bad-girl reputation for good, especially with the guys in school who need their own reputation boost – whether because they are gay, overweight, or sleeping with the guidance councilor. But lending her services as a stage slut, she soon finds there are disadvantages to having destroyed her reputability. For one thing, it’s become harder to get a genuine date.

Except, of course, with the handsome, understanding hunk (Penn Bagley) who’s always hung around in the wings, having a thing for her. She also finds it impossible to get a rise out of her nauseatingly understanding parents (Stanli Tucci and Patricia Clarkson), who are impossibly supportive and hip. (Just to show how hip the parents are, they’ve adopted a black kid – Olive's younger brother – who is given nothing to say in the picture and generally is trotted around like an accessory… a kind of weird liberal racism that would put Angelina Jolie to shame.) None of these super-supportive characters are believable and seem to exist only to eventually extricate Olive out of what is essentially an inextricable situation. (“Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never mended well,” says Benjamin Franklin. Possibly Olive has not read her Franklin.)

In the end, however, Olive is able to explain the whole thing and restore her reputation, but not before a lively, sexy performance with her toy boy at the pep rally for the big game. It’s a solid number and worth waiting for.

So despite its razor-thin characterizations, I do have to appreciate a movie that celebrates sarcasm, has self-aware, confident teenage gay characters, and takes a few good swipes at religion. The movie also has some nice ironic awareness of teen film form (there’s many a reference to John Hughes pictures) and Lisa Kudrow doing her nutty thing as the guidance councilor. It’s a bit lightweight and some of the cutesiness may make you gag, but a solid entry into the canon.

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