Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Easy A" (2010)

In the tired genre of teen movies, which then got rejuvenated with the likes of "Superbad" and then exhausted again, here is "Easy A" which flips the genre on its head again pumping it with a level of sharp, intelligent satire that'll have even Diablo Cody blushing. And as a teen movie derived from classic literature, such as "Clueless," "10 Things I Hate About You" and "She's the Man," this movie uses Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlett Letter" to clever effect. It's the story of a girl named Olive Penderghast who is labeled as the school skank at East Ojai High School. The truth, though, is that she's a virgin, and it starts with one fib to her best friend about how she spent her weekend. Embarrassed to admit she spent it dancing around her room singing along to "Pocket Full of Sunshine," Olive creates an elaborate story about how she lost her V-card to a college guy.

Olive is embodied by Emma Stone (probably most recognizable from "Zombieland"), the beautiful, husky-voiced redhead who exudes genuine charm and sass in every single scene. Sometimes there are those actors who go unnoticed until a certain role lets them shine. This is Stone's role, and she's now, safe to say, a breakout star. She is irresistible and nothing short of remarkable as Olive who wears her skimpy lingerie wardrobe and embroidered letter A to match her reputation with such biting wit and irony that it goes right over the heads of all her peers. Nobody knew who she was at her high school until she became known for her floozy promiscuity, and now everyone knows her. Rather than denying the bold claims against her, Olive embraces her new imaginary and degrading identity.

Olive finds a way to put her new rep to good use by helping out a gay classmate named Brandon (Dan Byrd) who gets harassed at school. At a bustling party, Olive stages a drunken hookup with Brandon allowing for the bullying against him to stop. Word of this favor gets out, however, and while there are still those who believe Olive is legitimately whoring around there is now a sector of guys who are willing to pay Olive in gifts to let them say she slept with them. Lies get piled upon lies and stories continually get more twisted placing Olive under the scrutiny of the worst of the school population including Marianne (a hilarious turn by Amanda Bynes), an overly pious bitch who promotes Olive's exploits as a lesson to everyone else.

One of the movie's best features is Olive's relationship with the adults in this hormone-filled environment. Her parents are played effortlessly by the talented Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson who are admirable, understanding and almost impossibly down-to-earth, funny and kind. The scenes between them and Olive are full of joy and warmth. Thomas Haden Church is great as a teacher, Mr. Griffith, who attempts to view Olive's situation from an objective lens even as his wife, Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow), the school's guidance counselor, takes a certain interest in it. Lisa Kudrow is also great, and her maniacal whimsy makes me wish she could land a lead role in something soon.

Director Will Gluck ("Fired Up!") and writer Bert V. Royal have made "Easy A" not only a great comedy but a really great, a surprisingly and pleasingly great, movie that is near-perfect on its own terms. What makes it that good? It's the level of sophistication at which every instance of comic timing and variation has been spun from the simple and potentially one-trick premise. It's the way the movie is an ode to 80s teen movies while keeping with the spirit of today's habits of social networking and the rumor mill and doing so with such verve. And, of course, it's Emma Stone, the exuberant delight that she is.

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