Saturday, September 18, 2010

Easy A

I grew up watching those John Hughes teenage comedies; “Ferris Bueller's Day Off”, “The Breakfast Club”, etc. I remember, as a kid, thinking how cool it would be when I was that age and in high school... yeah, not so much. Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone: “Zombieland”, “Superbad”) has a similar issue (save that where I saw those movies in the theater, she would have seen them on DVD); she badly wants to live in a 1980's John Hughes movie, but instead she finds herself in “Easy A”

“Easy A” is the story of a teenage girl, Olive, who, while not the “homely” girl who just needs to remove her glasses and comb her hair, is not one of the popular girls. She's just another teenager in a school full of teenagers until one little lie spins out of control. In order to avoid going camping with her best friend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka: “Bandslam”), she makes up a story about having a date with a college guy.

When the weekend is over, and Rhiannon grills her for details, Olive ends up saying that she slept with him. This lie is overheard by super-Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes: “What I Like About You”), and quickly spread across the school, growing in ridiculousness as it goes. Unlike most high schools, apparently no one at this school is sexually active because everyone seems either shocked or impressed by the news. Suddenly Olive, while not exactly popular, is the center of attention.

Things get worse when Olive admits to another student, Branden (Dan Byrd: “Cougar Town”), that she made it all up. Branden is the regular recipient of beatings from the school's homophobic jocks because he is gay, and when Olive suggests to him that he pretend he is straight until he's out of high school he asks her to help by pretending to sleep with him.

“Easy A” is a surprisingly smart and funny movie. Even though it appears to be set in the town of Ojai, California everyone seems to live on the planet Snark, from Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church: “Spider-Man 3”), the English teacher, making jokes about teachers rapping in bad movies to Olive's repeated references to the Demi Moore version of “The Scarlet Letter” witty dialog flies fast and furious. The style of humour in this movie reminded me a lot of the borderline absurdity found in “Arrested Development”, and that's not a bad thing.

One of the major purposes of this film seems to be turning those old John Hughes films on their ear. Far from the oblivious/absent/panicky parents found in those films, Olive's parents are present and accounted for, they just don't interfere. The school principal (Malcolm McDowell: “Heroes”), while still stern, makes jokes about school fundraisers with musical numbers, and the guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow: “Friends”)... well, that would be spoiling things a bit.

Fast paced and funny, the film is not perfect. Amanda Bynes comes off like someone trying to do an impression of Mandy Moore's character from “Saved!”, and it really just never works for me. In a film full of over-the-top characters, she just seems like she's trying to hard. While she does succeed in creating a really unlikable character, it just doesn't seem as natural as everyone else in the film.

The other small issue, and this really is just nitpicking, is Olive's brother, Chip (Bruce Clyde Jenkins). The poor kid only has three lines the entire movie, and seems more like a piece of the set than an actual character. Judging by the look on his face in some scenes, even he's not sure why he's in the movie.

The only big potential issue, and this is not one for me, is the religious aspects of the movie. It is almost impossible to like Marianne and her cadre of Christian fundamentalists. While the hypocrisy of her group is not as blatant as in a movie like “Saved!”, they still manage to be mean, hateful, judgmental, and just out and out liars. They are never really portrayed as the bad guys, but if this film has antagonists, they are it. It's all quite funny really, but if you are one of those Christians who thinks you are part of an oppressed minority then you may not see the humour.

Big applause has to go to Emma Stone. She plays her character as smart, witty, sexy, and just a little bit bitchy; switching from being a cheerful snarker to someone who just starts spitting out facts when she's flustered (think two parts Michael Bluth and one part Temperance Brennan). Plus it's just nice to see that she can carry a movie as the lead instead of just a supporting actress or part of an ensemble.

While I don't think this movie is going to be the next “Superbad”, it is better than a lot of the mediocre stuff out there (I'm look at you, "Going the Distance"). “Easy A” gets a solid B+ from me; it is a funny movie that won't insult your intelligence, and I definitely recommend heading out to the theaters to see it.

“Easy A” in in theaters now, and is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drugs, and strong language.

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