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Easy A

September 17, 2010

Easy A

You know that Easy A is a teen comedy. I know that Easy A is a teen comedy. What’s unusual is that Easy A knows it too; and boy, does it ever. As Olive (Emma Stone) says, “John Hughes didn’t direct my life”, but Will Gluck can do in a pinch.

It becomes very clear, very quickly, that the movie is very loosely derived from The Scarlet Letter. And just in case you weren’t paying any attention whatsoever, Olive’s English class is studying that very book. As she tells us, “isn’t it always the way that whatever you’re reading has some deep significant resonance with your whole life?” And of course it is always the way in movies like this. The fact that the movie is so completely up-front about it actually saves it from being cloying.

The action plays out in Ojai, where the film was shot. Olive tries to avoid a weekend camping with her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) and her weird, back-to-nature family by making up a story about a date with some guy from a community college. The next Monday, Rhiannon gets it in her head that Olive lost her virginity to this guy, and Olive decides it’s easier to let her run with it. Unfortunately, fundamentalist busybody Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears their conversation, and the word “tramp” is all over the school by first period.

Of course, the previously-anonymous Olive is now infamous, and though she claims otherwise she finds she likes the attention. She decides to capitalize on it by helping a gay friend spread his own unfounded rumors of heterosexual prowess by way of a very publicly staged hookup. One thing leads to another and she’s turning a tidy profit on her new reputation as things start to spiral out of control.

As she tries to put her life back together, Olive has the moral support — if not the direct assistance of — her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and her English teacher (excellently portrayed by Thomas Hayden Church). Ebert puts the parents into the same bin as J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney from Juno, but that’s not really accurate. Yes, Olive’s family is preternaturally understanding and supportive, but they’re also completely unrepentant dorks. As befits a thoroughly self-aware movie, they know this about themselves, and they’re charming in how they embrace it; unlike Juno’s parents, they don’t try to be cool.

But the one thing that Gluck gets right where so many other teen comedy directors go wrong is the student body — bodies, in fact. Yes, the principals are stunning (not to be confused with the principal: Malcolm McDowell), but the other teens in general don’t look like they’re attending a school for models. There are chubby girls, kids with acne, guys with scraggly facial hair, and they’re not played up for comedic effect or characterization. Despite the conveniently constructed and convention-conscious script, what’s striking is how normal everything seems. And this is what Easy A shares with the ’80s teen comedies it admittedly emulates, and what teen comedies since then have forgotten. But however he’s done it, Gluck has given Olive what she really wanted; she lives in an ’80s movie.

There’s word that the same treatment be extended to Cyrano de Bergerac and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, possibly with some overlap in settings and characters. Those adaptations can’t come soon enough to see if we really have found a replacement for John Hughes.

Worth it: definitely.
Bechdel test: debatable, which is still relatively uncommon and notable. There are definitely multiple women in it, speaking to each other, but the very nature of the movie means all the conversations are ultimately about sex. So does talking about “guys” — by way of abstract relationships with and reputations about them — count as talking “about a guy”? I’ll leave the judgement call to the experts on this one.

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