The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Easy A

Comedies about teenagers are so hit or miss it can be hard to tell what one's are worth looking into and which ones you should just skip by on the street.  Even raunchier comedies like American Pie (or at least the original) had a heart to it.  Teen sex comedies typically go for that lowest common denominator of lots of partying, boozing, and sex. Exaggerated to such a ridiculous point that the movies don't even resemble any actual high school experience, they can be the guiltiest of pleasures.

Then there's 2010's Easy A, a comedy about teenagers and about sex but not specifically a teen sex comedy...if that makes any sense at all. The ads late last summer really did their best to shove this movie down audience's throats, and I remember thinking that if I hadn't been overloaded with ads, I might have been interested in seeing this critically well-received comedy.  This is one of those rare comedies with a heart that also tries to deliver a message to its teenage audience, and to its older audience members a look at the life of a high schooler (albeit a movie teen).  Now it is still a movie portrayal of what someone must think high school is like, but compared to most, this one is moderately realistic, and that's something.

Your typical high school student, Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is like a lot of the kids in her high school.  She's more than content to hang out with her friends and just blend in with the crowd as opposed to standing out.  But one day she tells her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) that she lost her virginity to a college freshman and the news spreads like wildfire. People look at Olive differently, and her reputation grows for the better.  'She's the girl who had sex!' The reputation grows to the point where a gay student (Dan Byrd) asks Olive to pretend she had sex with him to help build his own reputation as a ladies man while avoiding the beatings and mocking for being gay. Olive goes along with it trying to help a friend, but she could never imagine what happens next as a result of her choice.

A recurring problem with movies based in a high school is that some combination of writers/studios/producers/directors clearly never went to any sort of a realistic high school.  Or on the other hand, they did and decide to make a movie about what they think high school should have been like. Thankfully here director Will Gluck finds a nice middle ground in between. The cliques among the students, the ever-moving rumor mill, the cool teacher, the stiff faculty, these all feel authentic.  Add in some modern elements like Twitter, webcams, Facebook and all sorts of other technology, and you get a movie that if nothing else feels authentic.  Is it?  Not at all times, but for the most part Easy A tries to represent at least a somewhat realistic view of high school.

From the time I saw her in Superbad a few years back, I've had a crush on Emma Stone so I'll say that early and get it out of the way.  I'm a sucker for redheads so when an actress is a genuinely funny one -- and a redhead at that -- I'm dead meat.  Besides not looking like your typical high school student, Stone puts off this very cool, smart appeal.  Physical humor or just a subtle delivery of a line, she can do it both equally well.  She plays off her cast nicely, giving everyone else a chance to shine while still making sure the camera's focus is on her.  In her first part where it's truly HER movie, Stone nails it.  Hopefully this is a sign of things to come as she continues her climb to stardom.

Stone does her fair share of heavy lifting as Olive, but Gluck assembles quite a cast around her.  Penn Badgley (of Gossip Girl) is Todd, Olive's big crush since the 8th grade who seems oblivious to all the rumors that start to fly around her. Amanda Bynes is the requisite bitchy character, an all-around good student and firm believer of Catholicism, looking down on anyone and everyone around when given the chance. Michalka is also good in the smaller part as Olive's best friend, Rhi.  The real supporting stars are the more established adult actors, some playing parts that amount to extended cameos.  Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are hilarious together as Olive's honest, intelligent parents who just want what's best for her. Thomas Haden Church steals every scene he is in as Mr. Griffith, Olive's favorite teacher, with Lisa Kudrow playing his wife, a guidance counselor at the school. Also can't forget Malcolm McDowell as the principal always worried about what all his students are up to.

You know what surprised me most about this movie? It's a comedy that's genuinely funny.  It feels real and rarely tries too hard, making the movie funnier because it isn't force feeding you the laughs.  Easy A is well-written with some biting humor and criticism of the current state of high schools and students everywhere.  Comparisons to the classic John Hughes comedies of the 1980s are not far off base in this comedy that is funny from beginning to end...and a happy one at that.

Easy A <---trailer (2010): ***/****           

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