Saturday 27 November 2010

Easy A

While Easy A is a fun movie and a welcomed intelligent one that takes its characters seriously, which is more than can be said either of most mainstream movies about high school or, for that matter, romantic comedies targeting a female audience, it is probably most interesting because of its subject matter: the one movie most of the people my age saw is American Pie. I wouldn't call it "influential", but it was definitely a shared experience. In American Pie, teenage boys do everything to lose their virginity.  In Easy A, one teenage girl is targeted after starting a fake rumour (mostly it's a lie to get out of a social occasion that gets out of control) that she lost her virginity. I am in no position to judge how much these new conservative values which the "hegemonic" youth in this movie represent are a reality in an average US school, but it has become an observable trend that religious groups connected by a virginity-until-marriage pledge are represented in movies and tv shows set in US high schools (which seems odd, considering the opposite direction British shows about the same age group are taking - considering how we all tend to consume the same media, it is interesting to see how differently teenage sexuality is depicted across the continental divide).
Easy A is the first time that the "villains" of the movie belong to that group, and represent an apparent majority that decides who does and does not belong, making a lost virginity more of a marker for being a social outcast than being smart (Daria), complicated (Freaks and Geeks) or artistic. Popularity is still assigned according to how conventionally beautiful and/or involved in social life the characters are, but not conforming to the conservative values (or rather: pretending not to) is what makes Olive (the always unsettlingly cool Emma Stone) an outcast in Easy A. There is still a perceivable double standard: as Olive embraces her status and fully lives up to it, she finds that the social status of the boys in her school is still defined by whether or not they are having sex, while the girls are supposed to be chaste. The double standard becomes her market niche: she provides a much-needed service, believable lies of lost virginities which guarantee both unpopular boys and a gay friend (whose supposedly more precarious situation - he starts his plight to her by saying "I am tormented every day at school" - the movie isn't particularly interested in) a safe position in the school's hacking order.
Easy A vilifies the entire school community: helpless teachers, questionable counsellors (Lisa Kudrow in a small but effective role), treacherous friends - but Olive's motives aren't exactly pure either. She doesn't want to reveal the ridiculous values represented and enforced, her initial over-reaction to the rumour is her excitement at being noticed for the first time, even though it is for something she did not actually do. In an age where every little thought can immediately be communicated (the entire movie is her vlog about the events, so it is very conscious about how the people it talks about represent themselves), not being invisible, even if it's for all the wrong reasons, seems exciting to her
While the movie partly succeeds in criticizing the inherent hypocrisy of the religious conservative values that seem to be gaining ground - Olive uses The Scarlet Letter (she is the only one in her class who actually read the novel and didn't just watch the movie with Demi Moore) as a reference for her own situation - the conclusion of the movie is still a frustratingly conventional one. For every reasonable, intelligent girl (considering that Olive is also blessed with supportive and artistic parents, while the villains of Easy A come from equally wacky families) there must be an equally wise-beyond-his-age prince (Penn Badgley) who hears her desperate cry for the kind of romance only found in 1980s movies by John Hughes. Easy A could have easily aspired to a more revolutionary end for its heroine than to ride into the sunset with a guy she will eventually lose her virginity with (when is none of our business). It's still a good movie, but I have a nagging feeling that it could have been more than that.

2010, directed by Will Gluck, featuring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Alyson Michalka.

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