Sunday, September 26, 2010
For the YouTube Generation -- Reflections on "Easy A" (2010)
At one point during Easy A, Olive Penderghast's (Emma Stone) English teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Hayden Church), remarks, "I don't know what your generation's fascination is with documenting your every thought...but I can assure you, they're not all diamonds. 'Roman is having an OK day, and bought a Coke Zero at the gas station. Raise the roof.' Who gives a rat's ass?"
With movies like The Virginity Hit and Catfish currently in theaters and Oscar-buzz film like The Social Network on the way, it's become obvious one of Hollywood's current fascinations is with the YouTube/Facebook/Twitter generation's interest in sharing every last detail of their lives. Reality TV dominates the airwaves and anyone, it seems, can now become a "star" as long as they are able to humiliate themselves (re: Jersey Shore). Of course, it stands to reason that the modern teenager, unable to discriminate between fantasy and reality, would believe then that every banal detail of his/her life would make for interesting reading.
As long as the details are scandalous enough, people will line up to read whether they are true or false. It is with this in mind that we come to Easy A, a John Hughes-inspired comedy for the YouTube generation about a teen girl, Olive, who tries to become relevant in her high school culture* by allowing the spread of rumors about her sexual awakening. The rumors, which Olive even helps perpetuate, are spread as only the current generation can spread them: cell phone, Facebook, MySpace, text message, Twitter, etc. There are a couple great sequences where we watch the information work its way through the school as the camera races through the hallways, flitting from phone to phone, ear to ear, on its way back to Olive, standing in the middle of a great mess. We've come a long way from my adolescence, when rumors were passed around via handwritten notes during home room period.
*Is it just me, or are Emma Stone and Aly Michalka waaaaayyyy too beautiful to be considered unpopular? At least in Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, Molly Ringwald wasn't the most attractive person in the movie. Here, Stone and Michalka are above and beyond the two most attractive people, making it really hard to believe they would be on the outskirts of the popularity parade.
The film itself is fun, lively, and full of excellent performances. Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) is fresh-faced and carries the weight of the film on her fully capable shoulders. She's a star in the making. She plays Olive with intelligence and vulnerability, and we never think less of her as she allows her lie to dig its heels deeper and deeper into her life and the lives of other characters. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci** are also terrific playing Olive's parents, who have great chemistry together and provide some of the film's best moments. I agree with Roger Ebert, who wrote that Olive's parents are right up there with Juno's parents as the best examples of parenthood in teen comedy history.
** Watching Stanley Tucci try to decide between Netflix movies for family film night is one of the highlights of the movie. He does it as if his life depends on the choice.
While Easy A is a good satire of the current generation's infatuation with themselves, it isn't quite as good at satirizing some of its other targets: schools and Christianity.
On the school front, Olive deals with the Principal (Malcolm McDowell), who gets bonuses for keeping kids off "the pole and the pipe" yet doesn't have enough money in the budget to afford janitors to clean the cafeteria. While the jokes are funny, they don't have much bite, nor make much sense in our current economic climate. Meanwhile, a more interesting story takes place between Olive and her favorite teacher's wife, Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow), but -- without giving any spoilers -- it falls flat under the one-note performance of Kudrow and the short shrift the script pays to the consequences of her character's actions.
Olive also faces the demon of Christianity as well, which is appropos as she fashions herself a modern Hester Prynne from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. As rumors of her skankiness spread, Olive takes to wearing Prynne's burdensome "A" on her most risque clothing. This is clever and well-done for the most part, but the extreme to which the Christians on her school's campus -- led by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) -- go to get rid of Olive is a bit overdone and doesn't say much we haven't already learned about the extremists in the Christian Right. To make this satire work, we needed a character to show us more than hypocrisy among the Christian teens. We needed to see that Olive's "unsaved" behavior was horrible, but comprable behavior amongst the "saved" was more acceptable and forgivable. The movie came close to showing a double-standard, but flopped in the final act.
Thankfully, though, Stone's sincerity in her performance and the movie's overall tone and spirit lifted some of the weaker story arcs, making Easy A a film worth seeing and sharing with teens. I can see a lot of good conversations coming out of some of the film's discussion points.
All right, I'm off to go use the bathroom right now, pop open a Cherry Coke, and pick lint out of my navel. Raise the roof!