Will Gluck’s Easy A is a movie that gets to the precipice of comedy greatness, peers over the edge and scurries away. In some ways I wish the first two acts of this movie weren’t so good – because the movie’s total puss out at the very conclusion becomes all the more frustrating. This of course leaves a proper review of the movie to be very difficult to write. There is so much good here that it is impossible to not recommend, but the movie’s conclusion left me annoyed – a clear case of pandering to an easy Hollywood formula instead of a comic leap the actors and material up to that point deserved.
One of the fascinating coincidences surrounding this movie is how a supporting player in one of the teenage comedies that DID get to the finish line (the brilliant Superbad) is the star of this movie. Of course this is Emma Stone**, and her performance is the sort of thing that could be considered a star maker. She and Gluck make the heroine, Olive, not just a sympathetic female lead, but a young woman with an angle on her life. In an early scene she describes hanging out with one of her friends’ families. “Their family was weird. And I live in California.”
** Considering she was “the catch” in the previous movie, the conceit that her character is an invisible creature in high school strains credibility, but hey, if bicycles can fly, right?
Olive is a fairly ordinary high schooler in California, where she has not found love or sex (how quaint – a high schooler in a teen movie who has not hit it). The school contains the usual pressures of having sex, and the pressures to REALLY not have sex (as modeled by the consistently hilarious Crazy Christian group in school), and the movie pays good attention this. Olive’s best friend has tales and badgers Olive about how her weekend was. Finally, to stop things Olive lies – and says she has hooked up with a college bloke.
Of course, this being high school – the word travels, and the movie is very knowing in how the rumor mill gets started. Suddenly, Olive has an air of mystery surrounding her as the “chick who did a college guy” and suddenly becomes the alleged lay of choice. When she takes her downtrodden gay friend into a room at a party and pretends to have sex, suddenly she is a hot commodity. Like just about all teenagers with this power, she sees a business opportunity as a faux tart of sorts – lending her name as a sexual conquest to various loser teenagers.
This enterprise seems to have a downside – who wants to become known as the town slut, even if it is known to be false. I mean, it’s one thing to run this front – but the allegations can cut at a person just trying to have a normal life. To Gluck’s credit, he does not shortchange this in the satire. The rumor mill’s downside is given full respect. This starts with both Olive becoming at first a friend of, and then mortal enemy of the Crazy Christians (with an inspired creepy leader performance by Amanda Bynes), Olive becoming entangled with faculty drama, and finally a loser guy who thinks she really is an easy tart.
Oh gosh there is a ton of good here in addition to what has already mentioned. The faculty (most notably Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow) are well played – the book Olive is studying in Church’s class leads to the movie title – I particularly liked the special attention paid to students skipping reading a book by watching the movie. (hint: some books have been adapted more than once, and not all the same) Olive’s parents are dotty in a very funny way without being the normal buffoons you find in teen comedies. Frankly, the entire supporting cast is loaded with good performances by an all-star team of American character actors (in addition to the above, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Malcolm McDowell).
But I can’t ignore the third act. Since this is a Hollywood movie, there is a love interest – a “right guy” for Olive. This is fine I suppose, but my heart sunk as the movie continued. It’s not that the chemistry is bad or whatever – but the movie’s satire and material is SO strong, that it feels luck Gluck tossed away a chance at a bitter comedy classic to chase down the “girl gets the boy” angle. That said, maybe that sort of movie would never have gotten greenlit. Easy A is so much better than most movies in its genre by such a wide margin in so many ways, that it gives us a hint at how it could have been really special, even if it doesn’t get there. If this review seems maddening, then … well, you probably have been left with the appropriate sentiment.