Friday, October 1, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Easy A

EASY A-- 4 STARS

http://letsnotandsaywedid.com/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1282140/

The great teen movies begin and end with the work of John Hughes.  From The Breakfast Club, to Sixteen Candles, to Ferris Bueller's Day Off and more, no one will ever match his legacy and no one will ever beat his films.  There's no argument, save for inclusion of one-hit wonder Fast Times at Ridgemont High written by a young Cameron Crowe.  Before his work in the 1980's, teen life was glossed up fluff like 1963's Beach Party with Annette Funicello.  Before Hughes came along, the only notable instances of real social angst, challenge, and hardship came from James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden) in the mid 1950's or the occasional envelope-pusher like 1971's The Last Picture Show.  Since Hughes, save for a few exceptions, most teen films have taken the gross-out route (the highly successful American Pie series and Superbad) or become transplants from ABC Family or Disney cable channels like the High School Musical movies.

While the R-rated American Pie movies and Superbad are great entertainment, they don't show both the comedy and the drama that Hughes merged so well, while still being entertaining.  To this reviewer, the four rare exceptions are Election, Orange County, Mean Girls, and Juno.  All four movies are completely different in plot, but their superior writing elevates them to a level way higher than the usual gutter filled with crap like I Love You, Beth Cooper.  While we could discuss those four all day, you can add the new Will Gluck film Easy A to that list.

Easy A pays homage to Hughes (directly so in several scenes) while creating a modern and endlessly-connected high school setting for the Facebook and Twitter generation that we didn't see come yet in 2004's Mean Girls.  Superbad and Zombieland redheaded co-star Emma Stone is Olive Penderghast, the whip-smart daughter to Dill and Rosemary, played by Academy Award nominees Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as the two most open, afluent, and easy-going parent stereotypes you will ever see in a teen film.  They reside in Ojai, California (the entire film was shot there) where Emma is a high school-er dealing with social acceptance, popularity, and reputation in the instant notification age.  Olive narrates our story in the past tense as she gives a live webcast to her classmates and us, the audience.

We quickly learn that it's the spreading of false and out-of-control rumors that has our heroine in front of a webcam talking to us.  As it turns out, when the false rumor started that she lost her virginity to a community college student, the story gets twisted and amplified to the point where our clean-cut Olive is now (wrongfully) branded a multi-partner slut by her peers.  It's a nice coincidence that they are reading and studying Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in everyone's favorite class led by Mr. Griffith (Sideways star Thomas Haden Church, whose character is cut from the same "coolest-ever" cloth that Olive's parents are).  The parallels made between our characters and the classic novel become a pitch-perfect way of showing the great similarities and differences between the colonial time then and the iPod time now. 

Instead of cowering in that falsehood or preaching her innocence, Olive runs with it and decides to create, add, and control the rumors that go out next.  She dresses to the slutty part and dons her own scarlet "A" as a badge of honor.  She begins to use her presumed prowess and promiscuity to help out her fellow lesser-popular classmates in secret by accepting gifts and money for them to say that they "did stuff" together.  Naturally, like any lie or rumor, though, the truth starts to catch up with Olive and she can't keep this persona up forever.  The plot-framing webcast and act-separating dry-erase board titles are her way of telling her side of the story and coming clean.

Some people are going to complain that Easy A has too many unrealistic elements compared to regular and real high school, even when you take the southern California-set grain of salt with your viewing.  Sure, high school students today are connected and have smartphones, but rumors can't travel that conveniently fast.  Most high school girls are not as witty and cool about such degrading rumors as Emma Stone acts them out to be.  The more religious clique of students aren't as militantly bipolar as former teen star Amanda Bynes plays them as loving one minute and damning the next.  No high school parents in the world act like Tucci and Clarkson, and few teachers commiserate and parade with Church's character's swagger.  Penn Badgley's normal-guy friend who just happens to be the school mascot and Lisa Kudrow's guidance counselor are other wild characterizations.

While some might consider all of that unrealistic, each of those flamboyant elements give Easy A its charm and uniqueness.  In an way, every great teen movie has that larger-than-life quality with their classic characters.  A prime example is each of the stereotypes that go deeper than we ever thought while in detention in The Breakfast Club, and who in the world went to school with a guy like Ferris Bueller or a girl like Juno MacGuff?  As a matter of fact, you can't make a good teen film without them.  If you want realistic teenage problems watch reality television or documentaries like the currently playing Waiting for Superman.  If you want entertainment and nostalgia, watch outrageous and smart teen films or TV shows.   

Those cliche-busting characters are richly charismatic.  They become why we watch teen films when we're not teenagers anymore, because, deep down, we want to relive that time or imagine that time as something cool and different than what we had ourselves.  We've always wanted to ditch school in Chicago or have have a single name fake ID like McLovin.  Easy A brings that teen movie tradition proudly to a new generation.  You begin to imagine what your high school self would be like in this digital age of Facebooking and Tweeting.  The funny thing is, whether it's Hester Prynne, James Dean, or Olive Penderghast, the basic issues that teens deal with haven't changed, just the means in which they out there for all to see.

LESSON #1: THE NASTY SIDE OF RUMORS-- While some rumors and gossip give us insight and a heads-up, let's face it, most are complete and total BS.  True or false, they spread like wildfire, escalate over time, and break down humane means of communication.  Rumors paint the wrong picture, ruin good reputations, implicate untruthful things, and are downright mean and hurtful.  Rumors create an environment where the mantra of "innocent until proven guilty" becomes reversed.  Everyone, at one time or another, has been the subject of a false rumor or been in the tough position of trying to dispell one.  Don't start them.  Don't help spread them, no matter how tempting it may be.  They will grow out of your control.

LESSON #2: CLICHES BECOME WHAT THEY ARE BECAUSE THEY ARE TRUE--  Every idiom, figure of speech, or broad generalization become cliches because they are that accurate and frequent in occurrence to be real.  Coaches and athletes are right when they say they play it one game at a time.  A penny saved really is a penny earned, Ben Franklin haters.  Movies have them too and they are repeated over and over because they work.  It's no accident that Easy A uses so many references and homages to the popular teen films and stereotypes of the past and present.

LESSON #3: THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY-- Much like the discussion on rumors and classic "he said/she said" disagreements, there are always two sides to every story.  Which one is true and which one people chose to believe may be two different things.  Don't rush to judgment on rumors, gossips, or explanations until you've heard all sides of the story.  Ignorance is bliss should never apply.  The involved person of gossip should be given a forum to tell their side or, in Olive's case, create their own.