REVIEW: Easy A [2010]

“The Accelerated Velocity of Terminological Inexactitude”

Who knew Huck Finn had such homosexual overtones? And who knew Easy A—a film I now regret not having caught at its TIFF debut three months ago, dismissing it as a low-brow tween comedy—would be such a great film? Director Will Gluck has just cemented himself as a guy whose work I will no longer preconceive as unworthy of my time—yes, I will admit to being mesmerized by the surprising comedic glory of his debut film Fired Up! He and writer Bert V. Royal have crafted what could be the modern-day equivalent of John Hughes teen angst dramedy here, using homage and blatant referencing to give the world a quasi rehash of the auteur’s style through the prism of the 21st century. This is a raunchy romantic comedy without the raunch, but with it’s fair share of vulgarity; an endearing tale of high school cliques and the cruelty of teens on the cusp of adulthood; a story with morals, despite its constant perversions of them; and, simply put, an all-around really good time at the movies.

Don’t look at the poster of a schoolgirl and the title as an on-the-nose descriptor of a plot involving a girl doing what she can for a good grade. No, the ‘A’ of the title is in fact a stand-in for adultery, Scarlet Letter style. And the ‘Easy’, well, when you look at the chalk scrawls around her, means this once anonymous unknown within the confines of schoolyard drama is currently ‘open for business’. Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) unwittingly discovers how dangerous a lie can be when the wrong people hear her tell a trusted friend about a made-up sexual tryst with an older college boy. Labeled slut before she could even exit the bathroom assumed to be empty, the attention strangely ends up appealing to her. What does her reputation matter when she is finally noticed, even if for the wrong reasons? She has done the right thing her entire life, so this modicum of danger entices her from the shell of snide remarks going unheard by the masses to a sexual being worth taking notice of and a forum of souls just asking to be mocked, ridiculed, and frightened by her front and center no-nonsense attitude. It’s the kind of cynical humor I personally revel in.

It isn’t all fun and games, however, once Olive’s penchant for kindness and misguided compassion turns her initial lie into a series of increasingly defamatory falsities spread for the good of nerds and fringe constituents, all using her seemingly strong-willed constitution when it comes to name-calling and self-esteem as a way to stop getting bullied, stop being looked upon as losers, and actually ‘get some’ for real. The school tramp takes the ostracization of the entire student body onto her shoulders, freeing them to be whatever their imaginations set before them, by keeping her mouth shut and letting the droves of gossipers create truth. She is not a victim at all, though. Not because she doesn’t correct anyone—as if she could—it’s because, at the start, she loves it. Having recently completed Hawthornes’s opus, the themes and actions taken in the fiction now become facts of her life. It started innocently and out of her control; it escalated when she agreed to be a friend and do a favor for the bullied Brandon (Dan Byrd); and goes nuclear once the fact she takes gift cards for sexual favors, (both in truth as compensation for lies and in lies as compensation for physical interaction) spreads like wildfire.

Thomas Haden Church’s Mr. Griffith never could have seen what teaching that book could spawn. Or maybe he could, since his dialogue is written in a way to show he’s aware he’s in a movie. When he begins rapping and soon stops to say he won’t do anymore so as not to become the clichéd movie stereotype of a cool teacher, you smile at the ‘meta’ moment and at Church’s delivery, he being one of the many hysterical adult performances. Couple him with guidance counselor and fear-induced Tourette curser Lisa Kudrow and under-achieving principal just looking to ‘keep the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe’ in Malcolm McDowell and you’d think there would be enough hyper-real authority figures. But Royal and Gluck don’t stop, also infusing in the most liberally awesome, hands-off in order to stay hands-on, parents possible with Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci. The atmosphere they cultivate in the Penderghast home is astonishing and quite possibly the highlight of this beast. They are caricatures in the truest and best sense, but it is their attitude that also allows us to believe in Olive. Kind to a fault and confident in her life choices, they give her the independence to put on her charade and find her own way through it.

And with the strangely open parenting skills of this town—one girl has a party every week when she catches mommy and daddy in compromising positions in the pool and Olive’s best friend Rhi (Alyson Michalka) is raised by nudist hippies—the kids are just as eccentric and ripe for cinematic laughs. Stone leads the pack with a masked vulnerability that should hit home for anyone who attended high school and felt the brunt of gossip or was the one gossiping. She has truly evolved into one of the best young actresses working today, mixing a unique attractiveness with impeccable comedic timing, making her the girl next door everyone wants to know. Amanda Bynes embraces her abrasiveness and actually excels as the Jesus-freak you love to hate; Michalka is pure image-driven popularity hound; Byrd is perfect as a clueless to heterosexuality openly-gay kid willing to fake it in order to get through his last year of school; and Penn Badgley’s Blue Devil/Woodchuck/Lobster Todd is the welcome breath of fresh air ‘normal’ human necessary to cope with the insanity. Each has embraced the script and swung for the fences, a genuine fact that proves Gluck not only has the eye for good material, but also the chops to bring it to life with a talented and passionate cast.

Easy A 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Emma Stone as “Olive Penderghast” in Screen Gems’ EASY A. Photo By: Adam Taylor
[2] The Penderghast family Stanley Tucci as “Dill”, Emma Stone as “Olive”, Bryce Clyde Jenkins as “Chip” and Patricia Clarkson as “Rosemary” in Screen Gems’ EASY A. Photo By: Adam Taylor
© 2010 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Penn Badgley stars as Woodchuck Todd and Emma Stone stars as Olive Penderghast in Screen Gems’ Easy A (2010)

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