Toronto: Smart and funny 'Easy A' makes a star of Emma Stone
Hello, Emma Stone. How's it feel to be a g.d. movie star?
Because that's exactly what she is by the time the closing credits roll on the charming, breezy "Easy A." The movie exists on the smart end of the teen movie spectrum, where films like "Sixteen Candles" and "Mean Girls" exist, and it's a combination of many factors that elevates the material. Will Gluck, working from a script by Bert V. Royal, throws in dozens of affectionate nods to other teen movie classics (and not-so-classics) as a way of acknowledging the conventions of the genre. This isn't some deconstructionist piece, though, determined to burn the genre to the ground. It is a teen comedy, unabashedly, but self-aware enough to make it all seem fresh.
Stone plays Olive, a girl who has been raised by her razor-sharp-and-funny parents (played with relish by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) to be a razor-sharp-and-funny girl who has a real sense of herself. She's so well-adjusted that my one question about the film is how she lets herself end up in such an awkward and unpleasant situation.
It starts with one little lie that she tells to her friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) because she's tired of being asked about dating and boys and sex. She lies to her and makes a claim about an older boyfriend at a local community college. The lie escalates until Olive confesses that they actually had sex over the weekend. What was meant to be a private boast turns public, though, thanks to Marianne (Amanda Bynes), a Bible-loving cheerleader who spends all her time talking about what Jesus wants while decidedly not turning the other cheek.
Olive ends up confiding in Brandon (Dan Byrd), a friend at school who has his own problems with constant harassment over being gay. Olive tells him to get a girlfriend, and he takes the idea and runs with it. He asks her to pose as his date to a party where they'll fake having sex quite loudly to cement his reputation as a dude. She does it, and then things escalate in a number of different ways. The English class led by Thomas Haden Church is studying The Scarlet Letter, conveniently, and as Olive's reputation gets away from her, she has to resort to drastic measures to fix things.
It's really not the plot that makes "Easy A" worthwhile. Gluck was really fortunate that this cast came together, because they're all so relaxed with each other, all so funny, and they all know exactly what tone to use to play this material. Tucci and Clarkson have worked together many times, and they are hilarious in every scene, constantly lobbying nimble verbal wordplay back and forth, encouraging their kids to do the same. It's obvious this is a smart family that not only shares love, but respect. It's very subtle, but it's that sort of choice that informs the whole film. Malcolm McDowell plays the school's principal, which is just weird enough as a choice to give his scenes some bite. Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow are teachers at the school, as well as a married couple, and what happens between them ends up playing more real, although lightly etched, than you'd expect.
And with the young cast, everyone seems on their game. Penn Badgley is good as the guy that Olive should be with but isn't, Dan Byrd is just as sharp here as he is on "Cougar Town," and Cam Gigandet displays an impressive sense of self-parody in his role as Micah, the holy roller boyfriend of Amanda Bynes. Speaking of Bynes, she's one of those young performers who learned a whoooole bunch of bad habits that are endearing when you're a kid and then not so endearing once you age, and it's only been in her last few roles that she seems to be moving beyond those bad habits and finding her voice as a young adult. She was pitch perfect in "Hairspray," and she pins down a very different character here, making her Marianne a nice example of curdled Christianity.
The film's got a nice pop feel, from the stylized opening credits to the equally-stylized closing credits, and a sharp soundtrack, and, yes, it's got Emma Stone, who deserves whatever huge offers start falling in her lap after this. She's a lovely girl, sure, but what makes her so compelling is the wit, the deadly timing, the deadpan one-liners wielded with wicked accuracy. I'm not a big fan of "Pretty Woman," but I understand why it turned Julia Roberts into a movie star. Watching Emma Stone here, I got the exact same feeling. Simply put, this is someone you want to watch, male or female, because of the force of personality on display.
"Easy A" is an easy sit, and it's worth seeing if only so you can say later that you were there when Emma Stone became a movie star.
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