EASY A

Multiple reviews are hailing Easy A as the best high school comedy since Mean Girls (or Clueless, depending on the critic), adding up to a shocking 87% positive of 157 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, with a perfect 100% of Top Critics approving. I too thought that’s just crazy, so I decided to investigate for myself. After the unanimous praise I expected to be disappointed (Juno still smarts like a fresh wound), but within five minutes the movie was winning me over thanks to a montage of a musical birthday card providing the cheesy soundtrack for a stay-at-home weekend. By the end of the film I had laughed many times and couldn’t help but endorse the majority opinion.

Easy A is sort of the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang of the high school movie genre, likewise featuring a narrator who self-consciously comments on the conventions (and cliches) of the genre as the present film re-enacts or rejects them. Some of the film’s more illustrious predecessors are even shown in clips, distinctly shown in digitized form as if excerpted from low-quality uploads to YouTube. As the film also belongs to the subgenre of classic-literature-reset-in-high-school as epitomized by Clueless, other cinematic versions of The Scarlet Letter are both shown and discussed, with knowing reference to the looseness of their adaptations.

It’s not an insult to the rest of the movie to say that Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson absolutely steal the show whenever they appear as Emma Stone’s parents. A lot of the credit for these scenes does go to the script, which is not just funny but also refreshing to see a parent-child relationship that is not defined by embarrassment or resentment. (I’m trying to think of the last high school movie in which parents are not depicted as buffoons… help, anyone? Even the otherwise sophisticated An Education made this elementary blunder.) Tom Haden Church also deserves recognition as yet another sympathetic adult. (Something’s fishy here — almost as if this movie is not trying to patronize pre-teens!)

The movie’s not perfect: the usually resourceful Amanda Bynes (herself a veteran of the literature-adapted-to-high-school premise) is wasted, not given much to work with as the self-righteous Christian obligatory to the most recent iterations of the genre. Either her performance or the material (or both) lacks the depth of Mandy Moore’s character in Saved!, but Bynes’ role has more to do with the film’s appropriation of The Scarlet Letter than anti-Christian stereotyping. At one point Emma Stone actually opens a Bible in a rare non-sarcastic moment, though it feels a little like a CYA scene to pre-empt criticism that the film depicts religion negatively.

One of the film’s delightful touches is the unambiguous identity of its setting in Ojai, California, as opposed to a generic suburban Everytown. Even more unconventionally, it was filmed entirely on location there.

In any case, to classify Easy A as a “teen comedy” would be unfair, though the teens in my audience did enjoy it. Rather, it’s a worthy contribution to the Hollywood tradition in which the American high school is a microcosm of adult society, or its petri dish. Easy A has one thing in common The Expendables: the quality of each film is accurately indicated by its title.

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4 thoughts on “EASY A

  1. Ryan says:

    I am interested in seeing this, but I gotta say I was really turned off when I saw Amanda Byne’s character in the trailer. “Hooray, another Christian stereotype that bears absolutely no resemblance to anyone I’ve ever known/met/heard about in real life, and I’ve been a Christian for 25 years.”

    And declaring that “Saved!” has any sort of depth, even comparatively, is a giant stretch. It might as well have been a foreign film. I couldn’t identify with a single thing they called “Christian” in that one.

    We need a satire of Christianity made by actual Christians. The best satires have some sort of love for what they’re poking fun at. We’ve seen a little bit of that with sites like “Stuff Christians Like”, but I’d like to see something out there in mainstream culture that your average Christian could recognize and enjoy. It is incredibly rare to see a film with a Christian character who is even in the tiniest bit sympathetic and real.

  2. Nobody says:

    I would guess that the Office-style mockumentary Jesus People: The Movie probably qualifies as a satire made by Christians. I haven’t seen the film itself but the web series it is based on is well-observed and affectionate enough to have been conceived from within an American non-denominational pietistic subculture. Although they are still comic characters, I think even the annoying personality types are recognizably those that pop up now and again.

    As for Saved!, I guess I was in a generous mood when I saw it 18 months ago because this is what I wrote about it at the time:

    “I was pleasantly surprised that while a particular type of pietistic Christians are deservedly satirized, the doctrines of Christianity itself are never mocked. Saved! is almost conspicuously non-offensive towards the content of Christian belief.

    The cynical part of me kept expecting the Patrick Fugit character to have been only set up for a disappointing betrayal of Jena Malone when he discovered her predicament, but fortunately his positive (if token) example of a compassionate Christian made it to the end of the film intact.

    Maybe I was watching it too sensitively, but I kept holding my breath waiting for the anti-Christian rant and it never came. Unfortunately the filmmakers couldn’t resist a short scene of bland South Park-style preachiness towards the end which did come across as rather ironic, especially since the film had demonstrated its points sufficiently without it.

    But most importantly I thought it was actually funny, and one of the better high school movies in the vein of Election or Mean Girls.”

  3. markdavo says:

    “We need a satire of Christianity made by actual Christians. ”

    Blue Like Jazz: The Movie may well promise that, given the content of Donald Miller’s book. Although, I suppose technically it’s not really satire.

    “It is incredibly rare to see a film with a Christian character who is even in the tiniest bit sympathetic and real.”

    Amy Adams character in ‘Doubt’; John Malkovich’s character in “Changeling”; The priest in “Gran Torino”; Shepherd Book in “Serenity”.

    Although admittedly, I’m not exactly disproving your argument, given that two of those films are by the same director.

    There’s actually plenty more examples of sympathetic Christian characters in television (Friday Night Lights; Firefly; The Wire; West Wing; Gilmore Girls; The Simpsons).

  4. Nobody says:

    Thanks for the lists, Mark.

    In passing you’ve reminded me that the priest in Gran Torino is one of the worst actors I have ever seen in a widely released film. Considering how many amateur actors appear in Gran Torino, that fact the he stands out from the crowd as exceptionally bad is a notorious achievement.

    The character might have been written sympathetically, but whenever actor Christopher Carley flatly repeated “Mr. Kowalski” without any inflection, I know I wanted to kill him.

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