Easy A (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Easy A (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEAs bad as this year has been for most feature length releases, the comedies have been a desolate wasteland of poor product.  To be fair, comedy is one of the hardest things to do well and not everyone is going to find the same thing funny.  But that still doesn't explain the lack of effort in films like Date Night, When In Rome, or any number of other horrible comedies that have been released this year.  To this end, I heaved a mighty sigh of relief when I finished up watching Easy A, a movie that does it's literary source material proud and good things to say about connections in our age.

Oh yeah, also it's hilarious.  That little tidbit certainly helped make the rest of the movie go down smoothly.

Easy A is a loose adaptation of the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel The Scarlet Letter. Like most loose literary adaptations, this one takes place in a sunny high school setting, but thankfully has a pretty good brain atop it's shoulders and an excellent lead in Emma Stone.  She plays Olive Penderghast, an overachieving student who is pretty much invisible to the entire school until her friend makes the mistake of thinking that Olive lost her virginity to a guy from a nearby community college.  This couldn't be farther from the truth, as seen in a pretty amusing montage, she spent most of her weekend fighting the virality of a too-catchy song.

But the news spreads fast, and pretty soon she is the center of attention at school.  Her best friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) finds out that she's playing along with the lie to keep the school's attention and asks for her help.  In his case, he's gay and is tired of everyone picking on him, so he asks for another lie from her so that they'lll back off until he graduates.  It's the kind of scenario that could have been offensive, but in this films hands and Dan Byrd's sad performance, finds a weirdly true core about the things we're willing to do to hide ourselves just to get by.

The movie is framed around a web-cam confessional that works surprisingly well, letting Olive comment on all the events that happened.

As the adage goes, you are what you pretend to be, and Olive starts running into this problem pretty fast.  By the end of the year her reputation is in tatters and she's "slept" with just about everyone on the school campus.  When you've become the symbol of the world's oldest profession, things start to get a little problematic for someone that is basically a good person.  Worse still, she becomes a target for the local Christian club led by Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes) who's intent on dragging out every rumor to it's maximum destructive potential.

Including the sub-plot about Brandon, this entire film had the potential to be a disaster but it works because of a lot of different factors.  The first is the absolutely amazing performance by Emma Stone in the lead.  The last time I saw her was in Superbad, where she played a pretty convincing high schooler and generated a good bit of empathy.  Here she's absolutely amazing, and focuses our attention entirely on her actions with a kind of rugged charisma and deep voice that make for an interesting personality.  Her bemusement at the situation never feels forced and she manages to make all the little dramatic situations poignant without underselling the comedy.  It's a tricky performance, and Emma Stone makes it a damned entertaining one.

The other big success in this film is the supporting cast.  While the writing is fairly good, it could have been mangled in lesser hands, but Easy A has so many excellent  talents firing off their "A" game that it sparkles.  Olive's parents are the kind of funny, supporting parents that exist in real life but for some reason are replaced by cold totalitarians in most movies, and are played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci with an abundance of warmth and humor.

Thomas Hayden Church owns every scene that he is in, providing a great commentary on how shallow his school is.

But the real gem of the supporting cast is Thomas Hayden Church as Olive's favorite teacher Mr. Griffith.  He's been showing up in a lot of amazing supporting roles over the last few years and this one is right at the top with his performance in Sideways.  As the ambassador of reason to these idiot high schoolers, he has a lot of sad and funny commentary on the way that we're content documenting our every thoughts online without having anything to say and acts as a solid confidante to Olive.  Church plays him magnificently, and wrings out a laugh every time he is on-screen except for one pivotal moment at the end.

The film isn't a perfect though.  The potshots that it takes against the local Christians are a little cheap, and since they're led by Amanda Bynes it causes a few conflicting emotions because she oversells her role to an annoying degree.  The film clearly wants us to hate them, but she devolves into such a caricature that it just becomes too obvious to even try.  Slightly better off but still unnecessary is a subplot involving the extramarital relations of Mr. Griffith's guidance counselor wife Mrs. Griffith.  Lisa Kudrow was playing her so it could have worked out, but the story strains so much credibility at this point that it becomes difficult to even laugh at the implausibility of what happens.

However, these are minor distractions that are over pretty fast.  Easy A could have been a regretfully annoying teen comedy but proves that it's a lot more ambitious than that, and has the cast and directing talent to really back up those aspirations.  It's been a dry spell for comedies that are smart and hilarious, so unless you need to drown in a torrent of cheap pop culture references a la Vampires Suck, this one'll serve as an oasis just fine.

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Easy A (2010)

Directed by Will Gluck.
Written by Bert V. Royal.
Starring an ensemble cast with Emma Stone, Dan Byrd, Amanda Bynes and many others.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. We just watched last night and thought it was really good movie. Thomas Hayden Church was really good but my fav characters were the parents. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson were so enjoyable to watch, you couldn’t help but smile when they were on screen.

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