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…

3 Responses to “Why I Loved “Easy A””

  • Sara Says:

    I liked to call the dialogue in Dawson’s Creek SAT words…I like to think in some way it was teaching teenagers without them knowing :p

  • fortunecookiejunkie Says:

    Well now, if we’re going to disparage cheerleader characters let’s at least get the vocab right- they’re pom _pons_ or _poms_ but never pom _poms_. (And I actually thought to myself as I left the theater, “Damn, I wish that Christian bitch had been a cheerleader.”)

    I also left the theater thinking that if I’m ever a parent I want to be the kind of parents portrayed by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson.

  • Colleen Conrad Says:

    You know, I THOUGHT that they were pom pons. But when I double-checked (via google), everywhere I looked they were listed as pom poms! My mistake for trusting the internet.

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