starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Hayden Church
screenplay by Bert V. Royal
directed by Will Gluck
by Jefferson Robbins What do I have to do these days to see a teen sex comedy where teen characters get to have sex? Filmmakers have gotten so good at larding chastity tracts with suggestiveness that you come out of the theatre believing, for fifteen minutes or so, that you actually witnessed youth in debauch. So far, the 21st century in teenage fare is like the Hays Code era all over again, only not well-written. Terrified at being accused of portraying high-schoolers doing what millions of high-schoolers do, studios have turned sexual misdirection into the best special effect since the lightsaber.
Will Gluck's abstinence romp Easy A, the first starring vehicle for Emma Stone, makes said misdirection its entire point, which is either totally brilliant or deeply cynical--I'm undecided. The movie tests how much of this first-base soft-petting we can forgive in exchange for the chance to spend time with a game, attractive lead. No surprise, we can forgive quite a lot. The ease with which Stone holds the centre--she appears in basically every scene (opposite towering presences like Malcolm McDowell), and the story is told almost entirely from her perspective--should rightly win her the parts and paydays awarded to really choice actresses. Zombieland did her no favours on this route. Rather, it proved that not every woman with alluring, catlike eyes can automatically pull off "slinky badass bitch." Leave those roles to Angelina. The films in which Stone has truly flourished allow her to play casually intelligent young women opposite tightly-wound young men, e.g. Superbad.
Plenty of tightly-wound men here. Busted on for being a straight-arrow bore by her alleged best friend (Aly Michalka), Stone's Ojai honours student Olive Penderghast falsely cops to losing her virginity to an unidentified college student. Watching the actress's eyes as the lie escapes her lips is transporting--you honestly feel you're watching a young woman crossing her social Rubicon. It sells you on Olive and her struggle, and you're willing to risk the heap of unbelievable shit that follows. Cornered by her tall tale, Olive acts as a gay friend's (Dan Byrd) beard in a very public attempt to convince the world he's straight, and goes on to accept purchase cards for various big-box stores to, in essence, enhance males' status with further falsehoods while damaging her own reputation.
Easy A is honest about the fact that teen sex is almost always better for him than for her--the girl who Does It disappoints, the boy who Does It earns backslaps. Olive is okay with that, seizing on The Scarlet Letter and casting herself as the vindicated non-strumpet, something that's supposed to make her a postfeminist heroine, I guess. It's pretty slick triangulation: the female audience can identify with her awkwardness (supposedly what we want in a romcom heroine), although as Stone plays her she's poised as all get-out; and the males can fantasize about her as either a sex object or simply the kind of reasonably hot gal-pal who'll fake an orgasm on their behalf. If her soul corrodes during her deceptions, it's because popular Christian soldier Marianne (Amanda Bynes*) wants her expelled for tramping around, because misguided guidance counsellor Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow) uses her as a foil, and because some boys think that since everyone says she puts out, she'll put out. Good thing she's got her loopy, free-spirit parents to come home to! Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are all smiles and banter and risqué anecdotes, and while they're very funny, they're not exactly the adult guardians I'd wish for in a potentially devastating social-life crisis. Think about Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign for persecuted gay teens, then ask if sexually defiant straight girls don't have it similarly rough when their peer groups are all purity rings and self-righteousness.
Easy A is buoyed by Stone--she's the only reason to watch, and a good one at that. The rest is frippery, failing at characterization, plotting, and even comedy. Kudrow's character, for instance, arrives too late and mutates too quickly into a nemesis. Michalka as the BFF tries too hard in an underwritten and illogical role. Olive has an adopted black brother (Bryce Clyde Jenkins) whose entire purpose is to sit there and have his blackness remarked upon as no big deal. (She also wilfully mistakes a South Asian kid for Mexican, but hey, a black president makes us all postracial, right?) The framing device is yet another confessional webcast, which, of course, the entire town is watching live right at that moment. The romances Olive dreams of are the stuff of Sixteen Candles--more proof, if any were needed after Not Another Teen Movie, that John Hughes will be the touchstone for any mainstream film about teenagers until the generation that first embraced him is on Medicare.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Something's up with my newer Sony Blu-rays, dropping the sound during the menu cycles of both this disc and the first season of "Justified". It's a muffled whisper on my 5.1 JVC receiver, coming across in LPCM 5.1, where the audio on the previews, main feature, and extras each have standard volume. Easy A looks great on the format, though--the 1.85:1, 1080p transfer a big wet kiss to DP Michael Grady's sun-rinsed cinematography. Stone's hair, I note, is constantly lit from behind to halo the cayenne of it, like the sun hovers over her right shoulder. Everybody's hair looks great, in fact, and there's a certain golden hyperreality to the whole thing, like the way you remember your teen years. The main 5.1 DTS-HD MA track puts dialogue down the front channels, sweetened with music and ambient sound in the wraparound. In a film-length audio commentary alongside Stone, director Gluck veers towards sexual harassment, asking his star if she's taken out advertising on her underwear in case TMZ tries to get an upskirt shot. Director and actress seem to have a fine rapport, and I'm sure Stone's heard worse from bigger creeps, but...blucchh. It's in-crowd banter that serves mostly to distance viewers from the people talking, although Gluck does reveal that Bert V. Royal's spec script was snapped up in a bidding war and shooting began eight months later. Maybe that's the problem: Easy A's story lacks much ironing beyond what Gluck could give it in front of the lens.
"The Making of Easy A" (14 mins.) is the best alternative to the yak-track, covering the bases touched by Gluck and Stone and more, only with less smarm. Like most of the extras, it's also presented in HD, with the behind-the-scenes coverage looking nearly as good as the feature. "Vocabulary of Hilarity" (5 mins.) is all about the dialogue, revealing Gluck to be quite taken with his own lexicon of slang non-words and indicating that much of what made it to the screen did not originate with Royal's script. It's almost filler, considering about half the testimony given here by actors and filmmakers has less to do with the words than with the perceived gestalt of the picture. "The School of Popular Culture: Movies of the Eighties" (5 mins.) is a further attempt to hitch Easy A to Hughesiana. Guess what? In Sixteen Candles, Farmer Ted got laid. (Well, okay, he raped somebody, but it seemed like a lark at the time. At least Long Duk Dong got his rocks off consensually.) Among standard-def supplements, a five-minute "Gag Reel" is not that funny, really, and "Emma Stone Audition Footage" runs an unseemly nineteen minutes. Nineteen! No. I love the girl, but no. The disc includes a BD-Live option I ignored, plus pop-up info nuggets that tell you everything you could otherwise hear in commentary or on the making-of, plus some other fun tidbits; it's probably worth a tour if you like the film. Trailers for The Social Network, Burlesque, Beastly, and Nowhere Boy greet us upon insertion of the platter. Originally published: February 2, 2011.
*Bynes's presence sets up some interesting mental feedback: Five years ago, she might have played Olive, but it would've been a very different portrayal. return