Even a mild John Hughes reference can send your teen angst movie into a tailspin of expectation failure, and Easy A doesn’t merely nod at the legendary writer/director, but provides a video montage and dares to include the line, “My life isn’t a John Hughes movie.”
That’s treading dangerous ground, but the film pulls it off, largely by way of being smart enough to know exactly what it is, and more importantly, exactly what it isn’t.
We enter the adventure with Olive (Emma Stone) putting together an online video diary of the events that have apparently spun out of control. We’ll return briefly to her commentary here and there, but for the most part events play out in standard fashion. Mostly under the radar in her high school life, Olive accidentally stumbles into infamy when a lie she tells her best friend is overheard by the school’s resident Jesus freak, Marianne (Amanda Bynes).
When it gets around school (a few minutes later) that Olive is “Easy,” she suddenly finds herself the talk of the quad, and soon parlays that into further reaches of notoriety by pretending to have sex with the school’s most famously (read – frequently picked on) homosexual guy. Naturally, her English class is reading The Scarlet Letter, and finding herself suddenly shunned, Olive decides to, as it were, give them something to shun, by allowing her fictional exploits to reach epic proportions.
Before Olive knows what happened, she finds herself the talk of the school, and the subject of the Christ brigade’s undivided attention. When certain real indiscretions come to light, it’s all too easy to pin things on her, and since she is generally moved to help out the less fortunate, she plays along, which is how the whole business started. Really, she thinks, how bad can it get if you’re just letting people say you did things that you didn’t actually do?
Awfully bad, it turns out, despite even the fact that Olive seems like just the girl who might be able to keep her head above water. The sum of events, some only tangentially related, are too much for anyone, and she has to find a way to also deal with the fact that she’s hoping Woodchuck Todd (long story), played by Penn Badgley, will look at her, as she dances between trying to get everyone to look at her and trying to get everyone to stop.
Like the John Hughes films (and Can’t Buy Me Love and Say Anything, which is a good move) that it is eager to call to mind, Easy A wins out by knowing exactly how to spin what is real just far enough into the unreal that it becomes a possible topic of conversation. Here, ramping up the gossip, and the effects (including anti-Olive rallies with posters and much chanting), to rival the level we find when African tribal dances take hold at school dances, or when more generally the main plot of the entire school really does revolve around you.
When these films work, and manage to become the things we talk about twenty years later, they are intelligently funny strings of events that never actually happened to anyone, but happen to everyone. Also like those other films, Easy A gives us a main character with just the right connection to what other people think about her. Disinterested enough that we hope we are like her, affected enough that we know that we are.
Of course, such films really get their heart and weight from the little touches that seem trivial (like life), and Olive is made all the more real by a host of things that we might think make no difference, and then only if we notice them at all. Her parents, played brilliantly (as expected) by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, who are believably responsible for her worldview and demeanor, probably represent the support that is easiest to recognize. But, the small moments that deliver so much of this film are everywhere.
Olive’s dislike of a certain song, which turns to an obsession with it (the clip is among those below), is not only clever and endearing comedy, and oh so “teen,” but more importantly showcases Olive’s comfort in her own skin, and while she may prefer not to spend the weekend by herself, she can. She’s also the girl who would actually go to the foreign film she can’t even pronounce, and the difference between the film in which this is merely a comic manner in which she accepts payment, and the film in which she actually goes is one that should not be overlooked. The list is endless.
Olive’s life may not be a John Hughes movie, though perhaps someone will try to help her out on that score, but here is a film (one of very few in the last two decades) that understands why wishing your life was a John Hughes movie is a turn of phrase that makes any sense. Not because no one holds their boombox over their head at us, or because we never ride off into the sunset on a lawnmower (after all, those aren’t John Hughes films), but because you see us as you want to see us… in the simplest terms… in the most convenient definitions…