Two decades after his last directorial effort, people are still talking about John Hughes. The writer-director didn’t just reinvigorate the high school comedy. For all intents and purposes, he invented the genre, making it cool for an entire generation to feel socially inept, confused: in short, human. Is it any wonder so many filmmakers today aim to recapture that magic? The minds behind Easy A certainly do, and they largely succeed, perhaps because their endearing protagonist wants it even more.
Much will be said of Emma Stone’s performance as Olive Penderghast. Despite having graduated from high school years ago, the actress proves perfect for the role, delivering everything one expects from a star in the making: charm, charisma, vulnerability, and comedic timing up the wazoo, presuming that’s where comedic timing goes. However, it’s Olive herself who captivated me. The girl doesn’t just know pop culture. She understands it enough to criticize it. Clever, goodhearted, and full of self-deprecating joy, she embodies everything to which movie teens so seldom aspire.
Here’s a fun way to tell whether you’ll dig the heroine. On Friday afternoon, Olive declares the Natasha Bedingfield tune in her greeting card “the worst song ever”. By Sunday evening, she’s sung to it so often the card’s run out of juice. If you think that makes her adorable, keep reading. You’ll find much to your liking. On the other hand, if you think that makes her a hypocrite, you heart may be missing a pocket full of sunshine.
In fairness, the girl herself feels embarrassed, which is how the whole mess gets started, as a white lie about spending the weekend with a college boy turns into a school-wide assertion she’s lost her virginity. Tickled by the power of false belief, Olive soon agrees to help her gay friend (Dan Byrd) with his proverbial closet, pretending to rock his world at a house party. Things escalate from there because, you see, high school is like a pop chart: hear the same song often enough, and, before you know it, the damnable thing’s become your ringer.
It’s worth noting Olive never does anything wrong, which makes the promotional blurbs about social climbing, greed, and promiscuity all the more perplexing. As symbolised by the scarlet “A” she proudly embroiders on her top, our heroine is merely taking control of her sexual identity, wrestling it away from those who believe chanting a cause gives them the right to scrutinise your drawers and expose them to the world. We should applaud Olive for her rebellious initiative. Her only mistake is to underestimate mob stupidity.
Perhaps the handful of romantic comedy trappings got the advertisers confused. Olive does have a love interest in Todd (Penn Badgley), a childhood flame who spends every waking hour in embarrassing getups, including a Blue Devil mascot costume, a more Christian-friendly beaver outfit, and a goofy lobster hat from his part-time job. The point is to show he doesn’t give a flying poop what others think, making him an ideal suitor for our protagonist. Also, the boy never gets in the way of the plot, allowing Olive to defy teen flick conventions by solving her problems on her own.
This is not to say our heroine doesn’t have allies, but they provide support, not solutions. My favourite are her adoptive parents, played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as free spirits having far too much fun not to rub off on their children. They’re responsible adults, mind you, but their absurdist wit and theatrical natures go a long way to explain Olive’s own personality quirks. More importantly, the two are freaking hilarious and worth the price of admission in and of themselves.
Also consider Thomas Haden Church as Olive’s literature teacher (movie kids never learn math), the way his eyes express as much respect as they do concern. In a one-on-one session with our heroine, the educator brings up the story’s two main sources of inspiration: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Facebook. Things didn’t end well for Hester Prynne, he reminds his student. Imagine what damage can be done in the age of social networking applications.
For those of us who don’t lose our marbles at the mere mention of abstinence (seriously, critics of America, that’s not what the film is about), Easy A has loads to share about sexual politics and the erosion of privacy. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny. However, I fear Will Gluck’s movie may turn out too sophisticated to work as a genuine teen comedy. Already, I can tell concessions were made, as various supporting characters overreact to PG-13 cuss words like “tit” and “twat”. It seems to me the producers, like their marketing team, have missed the point. After all, one doesn’t typically reference a twenty-year-old body of work in the hopes of appealing to the teenybopper crowd.