Saturday, 4 December 2010
Emma scores an Easy A from me
It’s official: Emma Stone rocks!
You might remember pretty red head Emma from her supporting roles in The House Bunny, Superbad and Zombieland plus her various TV appearances. And she was uniformly excellent in all of them. Because what Emma has is an aura of sharp intelligence to her acting not to mention bags of natural charm to go with her impeccable comic instincts and timing. As a result, she’s been at the top of the list of the new generation of Hollywood up and comers to watch, in the same way that Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock were twenty or so years ago. Because just like those two, as well as having bags of talent, Emma also has that certain indefinable something that quite simply makes the camera and the audience love her. She has star quality.
In Easy A, written by Bert V Royal and directed by Will Gluck, Emma plays socially invisible high school student Olive. Mostly ignored by her fellow students, the whip smart, witty Olive tells a little lie to avoid going on a camping trip with her best friend and her best friends weird parents. Said little lie involves a fictitious date with a college freshman. Well, one thing leads to another and the little lie soon gets out of hand evolving in to a much bigger lie about Olive losing her virginity and engaging in all kinds of freaky sex games with the made-up boy. Unfortunately this bigger, badder lie soon spreads further afield than it was intended, mutating ever more as the school rumour mill goes in to overdrive. And before poor Olive can say ‘woman of easy virtue’ the entire school now thinks she’s a (insert derogatory word for a woman who has lots of sex with lots of different men.) Despite her protestations of innocence, the rumours still continue to grow and she very quickly becomes a social pariah and a target for the schools group of creepy Christian holier than though kids. Olive is so incensed by what’s happened that she decides if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So, taking payment in the form of cash/vouchers/coupons etc. she pretends to have had sex with several dopey boys in order to help them out of various social jams. All the while she starts dressing like a burlesque dancer and wearing a scarlet ‘A’ on her clothes mirroring the book her English class have been reading, Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter, a story of adultery and hypocritical puritanical persecution in 17th Century America. Interwoven in to all of this is the fairly standard romantic story of the one boy Olive has really liked since they were both small and who can see through all of the lies about her.
So, essentially, Easy A is The Scarlet Letter transposed to a contemporary Californian High School in a similar way to how the great Clueless transposed Jane Austin’s Emma.
However, where Easy A differs is that it is not an adaptation but rather the Scarlet Letter is a touchstone for the story. Olive openly references The Scarlet Letter and identifies with its heroine Hester Prynne even going as far as wearing the same scarlet ‘A’ on her clothes to make a point and putting up with hypocritical religious persecution from her peers. But Easy A also openly refers to other more contemporary sources for inspiration – mostly 80’s teen movies by the likes of John Hughes. Olive makes the point that her story is not like any 80’s teen movie. She wishes it was and that she could get the same cool but pointless musical number ala Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (she does), or get Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club (she does…kinda), or get the same romantic John Cusack boom box moment from Say Anything (she gets that too…also kinda). So as well as being a modern take on an old literary classic, it is also an open love letter to some of the great teen angst/romance movies of the last twenty plus years.
But Easy A also happens to be very funny and very cool in its own right. The script is snappy, witty and sharp. The performances likewise with the quality of the cast being pretty darn impressive. For your money you get:
Thomas Haden Church
…and Stanley Tucci.
Clarkson and Tucci especially do some truly great work as Olive’s funny, loving, supportive yet rather offbeat parents. You can tell they were having a blast.
But, y’know what? The oddest thing occurred to me while watching Easy A.
The style of acting, of dialogue and delivery…I almost felt like I was watching a Shane Black film.
Or rather a Shane Black/Joss Whedon/John Hughes hybrid film.
It has that same cool, snarky, one liner, insult filled attitude of Shane Black mixed with the witty, pop culture/classic culture references, verbal word play and thematic layering of Whedon, plus the whole teen angst/wish fulfilment thing of Hughes. I was watching Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the other night and loving it. And watching Easy A reminded me (rather bizarrely) a whole heap of that film.
Sidebar: how bloody great is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? I adore it. Best Downey Jr role ever. Period. So why is Shane Black not making more movies? Answer: cuz judging by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang he pretty much hates Hollywood. End of sidebar.
Now, stay with me here.
Okay, so why does a violent, sweary comedy/action thriller from 2005 remind me of a teen high school comedy drama from 2010? Like I said above, Easy A shares with Black’s film that same style of clever, witty, smart-ass talk and ‘tude along with some great insults and put downs. Like KKBB, it also has the central character telling their story to the audience and narrating that story all the way through. Plus, both films main characters start out as total nobodies, rather hopeless cases. Though smart and sweet, they are both social outsiders who, through lies and some stupid decisions, become involved in a series of events that they then try to use to their advantage but which rapidly spiral out of control. There is also a childhood crush in both films who become part of the ongoing plots. Of course, there are no violent gun fights, fist fights or car chases in Easy A, just a swift, snappy, witty script and some top notch acting all round. Plus Emma Stone. And Emma Stone is great. She alone would make this film worth seeing. The script, style, and remaining cast make it pretty much unmissable. Sure, it all ends happily and the resolution is kinda formula and cheesy, but then Easy A is partly an ode to those kinds of films. And, anyway, the journey to the film's end has been an immensely fun one so I can forgive it.
So, yeah, Easy A. It’s a really good movie and a star making turn for Emma Stone who has the talent and the charisma to be big…Bullock and Roberts big.
In 2012 we’ll see Emma in the Spider-Man reboot as Gwen Stacey, Peter Parker’s love interest. Of course she’ll be great in it. We know that. I just hope she doesn’t get stuck in the girlfriend role too often and gets to have plenty more of her own leads. Cuz this lass certainly deserves 'em. Nice one, Emma. 4 (out of 5)