Easy A provides an all too simple view of High School

Easy A – 2010

Directed by – Will Gluck

Starring – Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patrica Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcom McDowell, Alyson Michalka, Stanley Tucci

Written by – Bert V. Royal

Everyone wants to imagine that they mastered High School, and Olive Pendergast (Stone) is no exception.  Given the perspective of narrator for Easy A, she is allowed the ability to make everyone seem as deep or as dense as possible.  This allows Olive the ability to float above the fray, whilst showing her in the midst of it.  The convenience is a contrivance of the plot, of course, and weakens the overall effectiveness of the portrayals.  But hey, it’s only a movie, right?  Kind of like a reputation.  Easy to throw off the chains, when the next page says it worked.  This is the essence of Easy A.

About 10 years ago, there was a live action modern adaptation of The Taming of the The Shrew, called 10 Things I Hate About You. That movie appears to be the model of Easy A.  Bert Royal had intended to create 3 movies from 3 classic works all taking place in the same fictional High School.  The first of these works to be tackled was The Scarlet Letter, which provides the general backdrop for the plot of Easy A.  I am not sure whether anything will be made of Cyrano de Bergerac and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but based on the profitability of the first effort, someone will probably greenlight a second.

The main difference between the Shakespeare adaptation and Royal’s take on Hawthorne, is in character development.  10 Things…provided a bevy of well-rounded characters, all with different goals, intentions and learning curves.  This film, as directed by Gluck, provides about 4 colorful characters and around 30 caricatures.  The 4 real people, Olive, her parents (Clarkson and Tucci), and the object of her affection Todd (Badgely), seem almost to be dispassionate viewers of their interactions with the cardboard characters that inhabit their daily lives.  This cheats the characters of any real tension provided by the machinations of the plot.  But more on that later.

The plot, starting off as a tale of a date with a college guy as a thin excuse for not wanting to hang out with her best friend (Michalka) on a camping trip with her friend’s parents, turns into a wildfire when the local religious tyrant, Mirianne (Bynes) hears and decides to spread it across the school in a decidedly un-Christian way.  This is the beginning of the film’s major flaws.  In presenting all the believers at the school (and out) as tyrannical and bigoted, the filmmakers leave no room for nuance, rendering the effect hollow.  Christians are not the only group that receives this treatment.

Olive’s friend Brandon, hearing the truth that Olive is still in deed virtuous, convinces her that only by them extending the lie can he be free of the bullying one gets for being gay.  This, of course, assumes that kids are too dumb in the age of “hate crimes” to hide their misgivings about one’s sexuality.  Then there’s the lack of nuance, thing.

From here, the rumors continue to fly, Olive, stolid and content in their face, as she loses her friends, her reputation and gains notoriety.  She consults with her parents, who, in some sort of perverted reverse-Stepford way, seem content with everything their daughter is professed to do, because they know that no matter what she is reported to have done, it’s nothing compared to what they actually did.  They treat the issue of sexuality like a punchline.  This makes them hip, of course, and smarter than everyone else.  And incredibly unrealistic.  If they were my parents, I would have had my butt kicked by age 5 and been in counselling by age 10.

The movie paints a picture of two types of persons.  There are those who “get it” and everyone else.  For everyone, whom reputation means anything, are presented in one, or at most, two colors.  Those colors, black and white.  This is a fault that underlies the film’s strengths of which there are a few.

Stone, moving through what is a great start to a movie career, is effortlessly watchable as Olive.  While given the most colors to work with, character-wise, she does much with what she has.  She is fearless in presenting herself as a dork, spending a whole weekend singing “Pocket Full of Sunshine.”  With stronger supporting characters, such as those she had in Superbad and Zombieland, she shines.  The scenes she shares with Badgley are good examples of this.  Ultimately, for the ingenuity of the plot allowing her to wade against the grain, she is done a disservice for having few contemporaries to learn from or be challenged by.

 

Is it really that simple, the church marm v. the harlot?

 

 

Thomas Haden Church is good, if glum, as her favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith.  He is given a lion’s share of the good lines and he delivers them in classic deadpan.  His potential is cut off half-way through the film, where his development ceases and he becomes a casualty of the plot.  Funny as they were, some of the interactions he has with Olive are borderline unprofessional, and somewhat unethical.  He shares his thoughts about other students in a way as if they were friends.  Of course, Olive, being above the level of her fellow students, does not read this in the wrong manner.  She is right there with him, in terms of development, which is a place that none of the other students can reach.

The problem with having these characters and sub-characters, is that the viewer has a limited amount of room with which to identify with the characters in the story.  The best high school movies, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 10 Things…, Clueless, Election, American Pie and Superbad, present their characters as funny, flawed and ultimately at the beginning of their journey.  Olive, as a character, has nowhere to go.  She already is far ahead of the rest of her “peers,” and the lesson she learns is superficial and nothing compared to the lesson’s she gives to everyone else.  They are automatons, plot devices unable to move forward until she shows them the error of their ways.  How I wish that High School would have been that way for me.

(*** out of *****)

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