Sunday, October 17, 2010

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Stone & Movie an Easy A

I don't know why it's so difficult for me to express my love of certain films. I can write up a full review for The Town, yet for weeks I've been silent on my reaction to Easy A and The Social Network. That's unfair, to both the films and you, my dear friends, who no doubt choose your theater-going experiences based on what I think (...right?).

Rest assured, there are two reasons: (1) I want to be able to do justice to these films, and (2) I'm trying to keep both hyperbole and the words "awesome" and "amazing" to a minimum. That's difficult because both words aptly describe these films, albeit in different ways.

At least I know exactly how they apply to Easy A: the performances. Specifically, Emma Stone's lead performance as false slut Olive Penderghast. Stone makes Olive into my dream girl: an intelligent, quick-witted redhead who can reference the Kinsey scale and German cinema with equal ease. Sure, writer Bert V. Royal and director Will Gluck probably did have a great effect on the crafting of the character, but Stone's execution is confident and flawless. It's thanks to Stone that we believe that such a whip-smart knockout could conceivably be another background figure in the high school hallways, so in tune with her body that she subtly marks the difference between the casual student of the beginning and the wanton "harlot" of the middle with her walk and posture. Her line delivery is killer, in scenes both dramatic (the confessional) and comedic ("You gotta be shittin' me, woman"). It's one of the most consistently drawn, confidently performed high school heroines since Alicia Silverstone's Cher Horowitz, even topping Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. After Superbad and Zombieland, it is more clear than ever: Emma Stone has arrived.

But I said performances. Plural. So I must talk about Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci and Bryce Clyde Jenkins as Olive's parents and adopted brother, respectively. There is an easy chemistry in all their scenes, and you get the sense that this is a family, that they have known each other their whole lives. Certainly Olive's humor and brilliance obviously stems from her warm, open, hilarious parents: when a boy arrives asking, "Is there an Olive here?", Clarkson replies, "There's a whole jar of them in the fridge." If there was anything that I wish we had more of, it's these scenes. Movie night, heart-to-hearts on cars, parents' past relationships stories, all are realistically, humorously portrayed, without any "wink-wink".

The school ensemble is solid, too, but here is where one problem lies: the script doesn't know what to do with all of them. A subplot with Lisa Kudrow as a guidance counselor is fascinatingly acted, but seems to come from nowhere. Alyson Michalka as the best friend is given short shrift; am I really to believe that her oldest friend would turn on her so quickly? Michalka is great, but I'm not always convinced by the turns the character makes. I wish we had gotten to know more about Penn Badgley and Cam Gigandet's characters,  because both young men are rather charming in their brief appearances.  Amanda Bynes and Thomas Haden Church are great fun, and Dan Byrd -- as the gay kid who first asks Olive to help his rep -- is pretty great, funny and touching.

The script does have its problems (unless it's a product of editing), but overall it's an extremely solid piece of work. I have to commend a high school movie that neither glamorizes nor demonizes sex. Gluck keeps everything grounded, but he never loses sight of the COMEDY. It made me laugh, it gave a message without being preachy, and it didn't overstay its welcome. Easy A lives up to the title.

Expect a write-up of The Social Network later.

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