September 23, 2010

Easy A

September 23, 2010

The list of movies I want to see right now—well, there is no list. That’s why I skipped my review last Thursday. This week, though, in a fit of desperation, I decided to try out “Easy A.” Some critics seemed to like it, and how could I resist a film that promised a humorous update on The Scarlet Letter?

So I plunked down my money, prepared to give myself over to whatever was about to happen on-screen for the next hour and a half.

The story was kind of fun. A girl, who by any imaginable standard is way too attractive to be ignored by the opposite sex, thinks of herself as invisible and tells her best friend a fib about losing her virginity, which in real life she certainly could have relinquished at anytime, if she’d been so inclined.

Naturally, the lie travels at warp speed throughout her high school, and she is suddenly transformed from nobody to super slut. Hence her decision to wear a red “A” on her chest, a la Hester Prynne.

The trick is—she’s still a virgin, but because she’s a good soul, she likes to help the less fortunate. She fakes sex with a gay friend so that he’ll stop getting beaten up and allows a collection of nerds and dorks to say she let them touch various parts of her body, etc.

Fair enough. A funny twist on the good girl who hasn’t quite gone bad.

But then she starts asking the boys who line up for her services to pay her with gift cards. Isn’t that perilously close to what the pros do? Not to mention way creepy. I could be splitting hairs, but at that point, I stopped caring about her and started wondering why the screenwriters hadn’t bothered to work through this contradiction. Maybe they were too caught up in the joke.

Hollywood has a grand tradition of casting teen films with actors and actresses who are past their sell-by date. Think, for example, Olivia Newton John (probably thirty) and Stockard Channing (easily thirty-five) in “Grease” and the Brat Packers in all those John Hughes 80s comedies, obvious granddaddies to this one. (Homages to “Ferris Bueller,” “Sixteen Candles,” and others abound.)

I kept asking myself why I was willing to suspend my disbelief back then but not now.

The answer lies in the writing. In those earlier movies, the characters talk and act like high schoolers I know, even if they aren’t exactly teenagers themselves. In “Easy A,” particularly the “girls” speak, dress, and behave like twenty-somethings who’ve really gotten around. I admit I’m out of touch, but I am acquainted with a fair number of adolescent girls. None of them remotely resemble the characters in the film.

Boys seem to get off easier. In “Superbad,” a movie I like a lot, the main characters act like the sixteen and seventeen year olds they are. Because they’re male, it’s somehow okay for them simply to find the beer, without all the too-wise-for-their-years banter.

Teenage girls, though, power big movies like “Titanic” and franchises like the Twilight sagas. Hollywood knows that and is careful in smaller ones like “Easy A” to give the intended audience a snarkier, more sophisticated mirror image of itself.

That’s smart business—though not necessarily great filmmaking.

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