Saturday, September 10, 2011

A-PLUS, MORE LIKE


DIRECTED BY WILL GLUCK 
STARRING: EMMA STONE, PENN BADGLEY, ALY MICHALKA, AMANDA BYNES, PATRICIA CLARKSON, STANLEY TUCCI, THOMAS HADEN CHURCH, LISA KUDROW, DAN BYRD and MALCOLM McDOWELL 

Will Gluck’s ‘Easy A’ is what girl-centred high school comedies like ‘Mean Girls’ weren’t, but should have been. In fact, I had indicated in my review of the Tina-Fey-written film about my yearning to see what a man had to say about typical high school stardom and the opportunity cost for attainment of the same. Bert V. Royal’s script got closer to giving me that experience than any other adamantly-defiant, anti-stereotype of a teen chick flick (read ‘Juno’) could ever have dreamt of. It’s a wild combination, where it’s both ‘in-your-face’ as well as emotionally disturbing, and has an ability to get effortlessly close to your heart. The key factor here is the relatively unknown Emma Stone (‘Superbad’, ‘Zombieland’), who turns top contributor by giving the film what no other teen film has even attempted – a convincing central performance, where the actress is actually as mature as the role demands her to be. A snug fit, Stone joins a list of young actresses that currently only has Ellen Page (‘Juno’, ‘Hard Candy’), and a possible Amanda Seyfried (‘Chloe’, ‘Boogie Woogie’). She actually takes it a notch higher, considering that she never tries to outdo herself in a performance that’s like the ‘Erin Brockovich’ of girl comedies. That’s right. Erin Brockovich. Someone should quote me on this. 

‘How much would you give up to get popular in school’ has been THE recurrent theme in high school flicks through the ages. ‘Easy A’ and its protagonist, the cocky and flat-chested Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) give us a picture on how much one would gain with the absence of the same. For in her school (‘public school’ as Principal Gibbons firmly enunciates in his British accent), fame is synonymous with notoriety. People wouldn’t care if someone bagged a Science award or scored the Olympics – actually, people (in this school) wouldn’t really get that far – but you’d make it to text-message headlines if you hung your panties on the doorknob at a party with people watching through the keyhole from outside. Of course, you’d also have to have a gay friend you wanted to help with his reputation on the inside. You know this thought that says ‘for all we know, they could have just bounced on the bed and banged on the walls and not really had sex’? Well, that never strikes them. The place is so crude, the atmosphere  perverted. Negative attention is the only attention, and it’s part of any sane rationale to steer clear. Olive, in real life, would have had to confess to the Principal and move out of town, but here she fights it. Or rather, she goes with the flow until it gets excruciatingly difficult. Or maybe she was just waiting for the faintest glimmer of hope and takes the next train out when she finds some. After all, she needs her ‘80s ending and she needs it bad. We’re ultimately given one, with stereo-speakers on a lawn-mover.  It's good.

But you know what the best part about ‘Easy A’ is? There is no Prom routine. Can you imagine? Every film set in a high school ever since ‘high school’ was covered in film has had a stupid Prom as part of its package. Or a Homecoming dance. Whatever they call it. I was so tired of this thing that’s so jaded it’s even unfair to call it a clich√© that I was almost in ecstasy when the film ended outside of a music-filled atmosphere where everyone miraculously knows their moves. Kind of makes this film like ‘Cruel Intentions’ minus the ‘cruel’ part. And it’s not a journal either (Do they even write those things anymore?). It’s a webcast, which Olive tricks the school into watching, thinking they’re going to get something slightly more than an ‘encore’. It’s her confession that’s the screenplay, the Indian being the first to get disappointed that that’s all there is to it. Obviously. Like, duh! 

The film has a strong supporting cast in the parents and teachers that finds itself outrun citing irrelevance. High School, after all, is like the Vegas of pre-Legal age. Olive’s parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) give her the entropy to both mess herself up as well as clean up after. On the one hand, it sounds convincing. But to trust is one thing, to choose to remain ignorant is another. Thomas Haden Church as Mr. Griffith, the only person in school Olive respects, shows a sliver of Jack from ‘Sideways’ that I made the mistake of expecting more. Lisa Kudrow, strangely, fits as the promiscuous Mrs. Griffith. But the worst would be Malcolm McDowell as Principal Gibbons. There’s nothing graceful about his come-and-go role, I couldn’t imagine why he even accepted it in the first place. Nevertheless it's an insignificant worry, for everything in this film contributes to Olive sorting things out by herself in a sort of self-help way. Even the advances of ‘Woodchuck Todd’ (Penn Badgley) are just a reassurance. 

It’s an out-and-out Emma Stone show, this transformation of rags to rockstar. And it’s delightful because she is. Not to take credit off her Olive, though – solidly real to her fictional environment. She's so exciting that she made me wish. Girls like her are so rare: They’re yet to be invented.

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