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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews Easy A

January 19th, 2011

If there was any doubt in your mind that Emma Stone is a bona fide movie star, that should be erased by Easy A.  She’s clearly a vibrant, intelligent, beautiful young woman, and she’s very engagingly watchable.  She has no trouble carrying this film on her young shoulders.

Unfortunately, other than watching Ms. Stone dig her teeth into her first starring role, I found precious little to enjoy in this movie.

The biggest problem is that, as talented as Ms. Stone clearly is, she’s just way too vibrant, intelligent, and beautiful a young woman to be believable as the totally unnoticed zero that she claims she is in the film’s opening monologue.  Much of the plot of the film depends on our accepting Olive (Emma Stone’s character) as a lonely looser, but nothing in her scenes on-screen leads me to buy that reality!  The problem is not contained just with Ms. Stone.  As the film progresses, we get to meet the young man who’s the real object of her affection: the boy she nicknames “Woodchuck Todd” (Penn Badgley).  I guess he’s also supposed to be something of an oddball, since he doesn’t seem to hang out with the “in” crowd kids, and he’s apparently the school’s mascot (a woodchuck, hence the nickname).  Except that when we see him without his shirt (which is often), Mr. Badgley is clearly an extraordinarily handsome, well-built fellow who looks more like the football team’s star quarterback than the goofy team mascot.  As with Ms. Stone, he’s entertaining, but I just don’t buy him in the role.

The rest of the actors supposedly playing high school kids all look equally too old and too good-looking to really be high school kids.  Look, maybe I’m spoiled by my devotion to Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Greeks, a show where the high school kids ALL ACTUALLY LOOKED LIKE HIGH SCHOOL KIDS!!  Easy A certainly isn’t the first movie or TV show to cast older, more impossibly beautiful people in the role of high school kids.  But it seems particularly egregious here.  (It doesn’t help, by the way, that the film features Joan Jett’s song “Bad Reputation” on the soundtrack at a key moment.  I can’t help but compare your movie to the brilliant Freaks and Geeks when you ACTUALLY USE FREAKS AND GEEKS’ THEME SONG IN YOUR FILM!!  Sheesh!!)

But while I didn’t believe Emma Stone to be a lonely, unseen kid, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t really enjoy watching her in the role.  She truly is a lot of fun, and when the movie works it works because of her charisma.  She effortlessly takes on the lead role.

I also really enjoyed the scenes with Olive’s parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson.  The roles are really well-written, and Mr. Tucci and Ms. Clarkson seem to be having great fun bringing this zany couple to life.  I could have watched a whole movie of just those two hanging out.  Their scenes are among the funniest in the film, and I wish they’d been featured more.

There are a number of other really talented adult actors in the film, but unfortunately they’re for the most part stranded in their roles.  It’s genius casting to have Malcolm McDowell as the school’s principal.  The principal is often a figure of fear and intimidation to high school kids, and who could embody that more than the fearsome Mr. McDowell??  But sadly he’s basically in only two scenes of the film (and those two scenes aren’t really funny, just bizarre).  Thomas Haden Church gets some good moments as Mr. Griffith, Olive’s favorite teacher, but he, too, has much less to do in the movie than I’d have hoped.  He seems like an interesting character when he’s introduced, and the movie gets some solid laughs from his deadpan delivery when talking to the students at the school.  But the one scene when we see him teach is painful (my wife, a teacher, commented “he’s trying WAY too hard,” which was right on the nose), and then he pretty much drops out of the film.  Key events happen that involve him, but we don’t really see what effect those events have on him, and we don’t get to know him well enough to be able to guess.  Then there’s Lisa Kudrow, who plays Mr. Griffith’s wife, the school’s guidance counselor.  The lovely Ms. Kudrow tries her best, but she’s saddled with the worst role in the film.  Her character commits some unbelievably crazy actions that seemed so far out of left field as to be laughable, and not in a good way.  There’s no real character here at all, just a plot device there to move the story along.  Nothing for an audience to invest in at all.

This film got some great reviews when it was released, but I just don’t see it.  There’s some snappy dialogue, and it’s definitely funny in places, but the over-all story is so weak and all-over-the-place that I can’t really describe the film as well-written.  There are some fun moments, and a great lead performance by Emma Stone, but that’s about it.  Easy A may be better than a lot of the dreck called “teen comedies” these days, but I can’t say that makes it that great a film.

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