“What’s your favourite teen movie?”
(Easy A, Will Gluck, USA, 2010, 92 mins)
In reality, quality high school comedies are few and far between, and the best ones (and a couple of the worst ones) are uniformly inspired by classic literature. Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, updated (though now is just dated) Austen, the sublime Ten Things I Hate About You modernized Shakespeare, and now Will Gluck’s witty Scarlet Letter homage Easy A can be added to that list. Let it be said now, this almost does for teen comedy what Scream did for slasher pictures.
The synopsis is this; Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is a 18 year old who is neither outcast nor popular, simply existing in her sunny Florida high school. When she lies to her best friend about losing her “V-Card” she is overheard by evangelical Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes) and rumours start to spread. Olive helps out a gay classmate by pretending to sleep with him, starting off a chain of events in which she quickly becomes known as the school whore, and she decides to perpetuate that image.
Easy A owes a whole lot to John Hughes, but like Scream, it wears its influences on its sleeve, turning homage into satire. Arguably though, the film goes further. Rather than simply poke fun at the genre’s conventions, the comedy here masks a deeper social commentary. While the smart ass dialogue rattles along at breakneck speed, the tensions of high school and indeed adult life shimmer underneath the one liners. The war between Christianity and Atheism is prominent, as are issues of class, sexuality and even teacher/student relations. The Scream similarities continue with an edgy self awareness – Bert V. Royal’s snappy screenplay continously references not only other movies of its ilk, especially Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, but knows and states explicity that this is a teen movie; “…now isn’t that always the way, the books you read in class always have some strong connection with whatever angsty adolescent drama is going on…” The film uses this hyper self awareness intelligently, freshening up what is a stale modus operandi in film today, postmodernism.
None of this would be worth a damn if the performances weren’t pitch perfect. Stone is destined for stardom, having stolen the show in recent comedies such as Superbad and Zombieland. Her earthy charm and effortless cool are well suited to this role, and as Olive she is able to show off a little. Her charisma and comic timing are expertly balanced by notes of unmistakeable emotion, hinting at further, more serious roles. Amanda Bynes, an actress seemingly destined to be the best thing in terrible films (hello She’s The Man) is finally one of the greatest things in an excellent film. Her comedy chops are finally given some meat, and she shines as a “Jesus freak” forming a lynch mob against our heroine. Unusually for a film of this genre, the adults are fully drawn characters; Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are adorable as Olive’s liberal, witty parents, and Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Haden Church are excellent as married teachers having some problems of their own.
Gluck’s direction is easy on the eye, drenching Olive’s world in gorgeous golden sunshine, and making use of some beautiful scenery. One too, must congratulate the soundtrack choices here, witha blend of sunny pop and indie rock shimmering in the background. His own comic timing is crucial and expertly employed for the duration. Like Scream however, Easy A does lag somewhat towards its final act, and everything feels somewhat too neatly squared away come the credits. The Hughes references are funny, however they make too obvious that he has done this better before, but as previously stated, the postmodern sense of irony is welcome in a well-worn genre.
Despite some issues with pacing, Gluck’s self-referential comedy is funny, original and enormously entertaining. While it might not have Scream‘s slight of hand, it has its own tricks up its sleeve, tricking us with conventions that while adhered to, are slyly turned on their heads when you least expect it.