Monday, September 27, 2010

Easy A (dir. Will Gluck)

Seriously...never underestimate what a good cast and a likable lead can do for you. Never say that script, or even direction, is the be all and end all in pictures. Though, as we learn here, lacking in either department will hinder the hell out of it.

Because Easy A would be almost worthless if not for a lot of people. Especially if not for Emma Stone, about whom it's tempting to simply say "Emma Stone is awesome!" for five paragraphs and call it a day. I'm not going to say I've been aching for Stone to get a shot like this - I liked her well enough in Superbad and Zombieland, but she never really made a huge impression. Her work here, however, is the makings of a true movie star. It's a smartly-written role, to be sure, as good as the well-adjusted, clever, insightful, beyond-her-years teen role gets, but there's little question that Stone owns it in a way only a movie star can. She's well supported, especially by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci - who play her parents - and the fact that they steal every scene they're in is a testament not only to how talented they are, but to Stone's ability to hold her own as an equal.

And there is a movie worthy of her command buried in here. As sloppy and unmotivated as the film is (every second of Lisa Kudrow's character should have been cut, for starters), as many emotional shortcuts as it takes, it still manages to tackle relevant issues in a smart way. Olive (Stone) gains a certain amount of popularity for the sexual activity she's believed to have taken part in, but when she carries the lie too far, the school starts to turn on her. Granted, this happens to an almost ridiculous degree - rumors seem to have hit everyone at the school within an hour, and the other kids actually make protest signs to demean her - but the concerns are legitimate and relevant for young people today. How much sex is too much sex? Any? And with how many people? Where's the line between keeping your sex life private and engaging in modern discourse?

I attended Catholic high school, and one of the less promiscuous ones at that. I never knew a world where teenage sex was a normal part of the landscape. Nevertheless, you'd hear stories told in whispered tones far from adult ears. They never included anyone you were terribly close with. Football players and cheerleaders, as stereotypical as that may seem, were too often the subject, though for all I know they were telling stories of my fellow drama nerds I couldn't imagine. They were typically outlandish, exciting, and all too often a little gross. But they always seemed to be happening outside of my experience. Somewhere over there.

It's interesting then to think about these conversations happening in high schools across the country, and I know they do. We are perhaps a richer society for heightened sexual awareness, but there is still a societal battle between our puritanical roots and the eventuality of some sort of enlightenment (or acceptance, as you prefer). This film represents one of the markers of the state of this battle, though it makes no bones about casting religious conservatives in a tone not only unfair, but also dramatically flat.

For young people, sex represents an exciting, but dangerous, step into adulthood. Like any similar milestone, it is exciting only in the process preceding, during, and immediately following crossing into it. And although no sex actually occurs in this film - the grand conceit is that all of these matters are addressed with nary a thrust - Olive's journey is an outward expression of something very personal and relevant: the publication of something private.

That Olive embraces, wholeheartedly, her newfound popularity as "one of the sexed" is no surprise, and neither is her belief of "more is better." I've heard criticism that someone as smart and well-adjusted as Olive would never do anything as deeply stupid as the decisions that drive this narrative - which begins with lying about losing her virginity, becomes lying about having sex with the school's outcasts, and blossoms into being the school's resident sex bomb - but they simply forget, or possibly never experienced, the drug of popularity. It is nearly impossible at that or any age to turn away from something that gets you noticed.

And this is why I really liked this movie in spite of itself. There are ideas, themes, and a relevant message at the beating heart of this movie, so when all else fails, you still have a lot worth clinging onto. Well, that and Emma Stone is frickin' amazing.

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