Sep 19 2010

Why I Loved “Easy A”

Yesterday a Future Children’s Librarian friend and I went to see Easy A, a movie that follows the trials and tribulations of self-proclaimed “invisible” adolescent Olive.  When the high-tech teenage rumor-mill turns her into the school slut, Olive navigates the line between embracing the role and rejecting it. 

FCL and I laughed our way through the film, and firmly agreed that we adored it.  Here are just five of the reasons why:

1.  Smart, Funny Girls

Alas, we don’t always see strong comedies firmly rooted in female characters.  When we do, they are often in the slap-stick, “oh, look at her teetering around on those ridiculous heels” kinds of ways.  But this film’s witty dialogue makes Olive (played by Emma Stone) hilarious, relatable—albeit slightly more intellectually advanced than your typical teen—and watchable from start to finish.  Replete with eye-rolling and zingers, Olive is the girl that I wanted to befriend in high school.  Or be, for that matter.

I’d like to add that it was a refreshing change not to see any cheerleaders (sorry, Fortune Cookie Junkie!).  While I acknowledge that today’s cheerleaders may be able to claim a spot in third-wave feminism, I did not miss the antagonistic cheerleader-rival character.  Sure, Amanda Bynes’s Christian-bitch Marianne fills that role, but it was a relief not to see any pom-poms or tumbling… except in a few select pep-rally scenes featuring Penn Badgley as the school mascot, “Woodchuck Todd.”  (Totally worth it.)

2.  Social Commentary

What kind of an English major/women’s studies minor/feminist would I be if I didn’t see a Deeper Meaning in the movies that I enjoy? 

In one memorable scene, Olive emerges from a bedroom at a party following a fake sexual tryst with a gay pal.  The boys waiting outside the door eagerly high-five her friend and pointedly step away from her.  The message is clear:  promiscuous boys are praised, while sexually active girls are shunned.  This movie makes a point about gender stereotypes, double-standards, and high school gossip, and I appreciate that.  There is a romance, but that plotline is entirely secondary to Olive’s coming-of-age story.  Ultimately, our heroine flips the script, holding a mirror up to her peers so that they can see the hypocrisy and sheer meanness in their high school world. 

And what better way to do it than to sew a scarlet “A” to your breast?  Sure, most other high schoolers won’t understand the reference.  But I loved it!  And that brings me to my next point…

3.  Literary References

The reader/writer in me relished the Hester Prynne parallel throughout the film.  I mean, how many teen movies actually give a synopsis of a classic piece of literature in the first thirty minutes of screen time?  Olive blasts the bastardized Demi Moore film version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; one of her classmates vilifies Hester Prynne for her actions during a discussion in English class; Olive herself embraces her Prynne-esque alter-ego.  Ah, how art imitates life imitating art.  Or something. 

Now, I know that this may be a stretch, but the movie also had me at “John Hughes.”  Arguing that John Hughes films are literary exaggerates the boundaries of the medium as well as the classical definition of the word, but come on—people thought J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was a flash in the pan too, once, didn’t they? 

Hughes has a special place in my heart.  I know all of the words to The Breakfast Club, and I watched Sixteen Candles this morning over coffee.  I’m hardly objective.  But I think that Hughes was a visionary.  He had a knack for portraying the adolescent experience in ways that resonated with his audience…Even into their forties.  So when Olive yearns to kiss Jake Ryan over her birthday cake, or to have a big musical number like Ferris Bueller, I wanted those things right along with her.  Hell, I still want those things!

4.  Voice

The writers were smart to include a scene in which a peer tells Olive that she talks like a grown-up.  Because she does.  I’ve written before about how I’m occasionally given the critique that my characters use vocabulary too advanced for teenagers.  And that may be true; it’s something I’m working on.  But Olive’s banter is reminiscent of Dawson’s Creek, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls and my personal fave, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  She’s quick-witted, well-read, and worldly.  And sure, that may be unrealistic.  But it makes for outstanding one-liners piled on top of each other like layers in an indulgent dessert.  I ate them all up, without complaint, knowing the whole time that very few kids actually speak that way. 

But then, it makes sense for this character.  Olive comes from a family where her parents speak to her like she’s already an adult.  They are equally funny, grounded, and intelligent.  Which is a perfect segue to my last, self-indulgent point…

5.  Grown-ups Who Don’t Suck

Yes, I know.  Being a grown-up myself, it’s a bit selfish for me to make this one of my criteria.  Shouldn’t kids get a chance to have their movies, where the adults around them are irritating, out-of-touch and slightly abusive?  Probably so.  But I’m the one writing this review.

I really enjoyed seeing parents (played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) who are supportive without being stifling, and laid-back without being neglectful.  Parents who are happy, wise, youthful and kind.  I kept thinking, “This is the kind of parent I want to be…if I ever have kids, that is.”

And then there is the teacher, Mr. Griffith, played by Thomas Hayden Church, who is attentive in his own sardonic, dead-pan kind of way.  It’s always a relief to see realistic teachers.  Educators who are clearly educated.  Who care about their students, behave like human beings, and who are actually good at what they do.  Crazy concept, I know, but those teachers do exist.  All over the place, actually.  They’re funny, they’re intelligent, they’re dedicated.  And aside from my own personal biases in this area, Mr. Griffith was just fun to watch.  His character was laced with the same thoughtful voice as Olive, garnering respect from his students…and his audience.

Now, my FCL friend and I are both addicted to young adult literature, and I’ll openly admit that Teen Movie may aptly describe my film genre of preference.  Easy A fit a niche for us both.  But I argue that it’s more than your typical adolescent flick, a la She’s All That (which I watched recently and found entirely disappointing the second time around).  Easy A is well-made, well-written, and chock-full-o pleasing teenage characters.  It may even have inspired me to pick up The Scarlet Letter again.  Or at least rent the Demi Moore version of the movie…

Sep 15 2010

Where Does the Time Go?

            Last weekend I visited a newly-unemployed lawyer-writer friend in Illinois.  As one of my husband’s best friends from college, he stood up in our wedding.  Every time I see him I’m reminded why he means so much to my hubby.  He’s hilariously witty, and completely down-to-earth.  So when my team was travelling to his town to play in a tournament, I immediately asked him if we could crash at his house.  Of course, he said yes.  (Why turn down a visit from 15 wildly attractive women?)

            I flew in early and spent the day with The Groomsman and his two adorable beagles.  At one point, before his mischievous dog escaped from his backyard and we had to enact Operation-Ryno-Retrieval, we were talking about the writing process…and its inevitable frustrations.  Groomsman has a blog that I quite enjoy,, and he’s been doing some local freelance work. 

            “Now that I’m not working, I have no idea how I ever wrote a thing before,” he said of the time required to really commit to writing.  I couldn’t agree more.

            Sure, having a few equally-motivated critique partners helps.  And making a schedule also aids in my efforts.  Then there’s the fact that I don’t have any kids.  (How do parents ever find the time?!)  But if the last month has taught me anything, it’s that I’m easily distracted.

            I left the SCBWI L.A. conference in August feeling inspired and motivated.  But no sooner had I returned home than I flew off for a family vacation.  Upon returning to Austin, I promptly began the school year.  I’ve been swamped!  Now it’s been almost a month, and I’ve barely eeked out any time for My Writing.  Where does the time go?

            In my case, it goes in a million different directions.  Teaching, captaining a team, practicing ultimate, working out, watching TV (yeah, I’ll admit it), spending time with friends, attempting to make time for my husband, sleeping in (when I can), making dinner, eating dinner…Am I willing to give up any of these activities?  How many choices do I have to make in order to carve out some precious time for writing?

Sep 5 2010

New School Year’s Resolutions

            It’s been far too long. 

            Before leaving for a conference and then a cruise with family (yikes!) over the last month, I met up with a new writer friend who told me about her blog,  She and I agreed to regularly share work, drink wine, and pump each other up about writing when we need it.  Since that first meeting, I’ve been following her blog and find it fun, thoughtful, and approachable.  Much like the author herself, actually.

            Given the fact that I’ve just begun a new academic year, and introduced myself to 180 new middle schoolers and their parents, I thought I’d take a page out of my friend’s book (so to speak) and write up a few of my own New School Year’s Resolutions.  There are way too many, and some of them are entirely too unrealistic, but I figure — aim high.  Go big or go home.  Or something.  So here we go…

  • Be present.  I have a terrible habit of trying to do one thing while my mind is focused on twelve others.  That makes for sub-standard teaching and a lot of stress.  I want to be more in-the-moment for my classes.  It’s better for me and for them.  In other words, no more multi-tasking.  One thing at a time, Colleen.  One.  Thing.  At a time.
  • Read aloud.  They may be twelve and thirteen years old, but they love it.  And I love it, too.  I’m an actress at heart, really.
  • Take my classes outside more.  I live in Austin, where the weather is warm year-round.  I teach at a school with a lush, spacious courtyard.  The kids have a blast when we take field trips to the picnic tables for lessons.  And we all need a little Vitamin D now and then.  (Another bonus is that this also helps minimize the multi-tasking and encourages the reading aloud…)
  • Take care of my body.  Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise.  Sure, there is a vanity aspect of this resolution.  But maybe I can see that as a little perk rather than a necessity.  The real benefit is the simple fact that I will feel better if I follow these guidelines.
  • Take care of my mind.  I’m a happier person when I write, when I practice yoga, when I give myself the space to reflect and focus on the good things.  When I take the time to think and breath. 
  • Celebrate Austin.  Do all of those things that I love about this city.
  • Resist the urge to over-plan and/or plan too far ahead.  (See above, “be present.”)
  • Publicize BookPeople events and speakers to my students.  I love that place and what they do, and I know that many of my students would fall in love with it like I have —
  • Do the best I can with what I’m given.  There are things that I can change, and things that I cannot.  The materials offered to me, the students in my classroom, and the tests required by my state/district fall into the latter category.  I need to be grateful for what I have and make the most of it.  I’ll be a better (read:  happier) teacher if I understand my students, appreciate them, meet them where they are, and push them to be the best versions of themselves.  I can only control my classroom; I need to make that the best environment that I can.
  • Teach units and texts that I’m truly excited about.
  • Be disciplined and efficient with my time.
  • Say no.  Odd that I should resolve to be a “no” person, but generally I’m one of those people who takes on too much.  Inevitably, then, I feel overwhelmed with responsibility and can’t do anything as well as I’d like.  I will be so much happier if I learn to set boundaries for myself and let go sometimes.


So there you have it.  I’ve thrown a whole bunch of stuff at the wall.  Let’s see what sticks.  Oh, and don’t forget to check out my girl’s blog.  We could all use a little resolve each month, in happy bite-size portions.  (Unlike what I’ve done above, of course!)