They don’t make ’em like this anymore
Teenagers of the 80s didn’t know how good they had it. Sure, they had to contend with shoulder pads; the music of Rick Astley; and George Bush as president – but they also had the ridiculously talented John Hughes looking out for them. Twenty years after their release movies such as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off still delight and entertain audiences of all ages. And while a great many other movies have been made about the teenage experience in the intervening decades, it’s fair to say that very few (if any) have come close to Hughes’s classic contributions to the silver screen.
What constitutes a teen comedy these days seems to be all too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former. I’m a huge fan of 1999’s American Pie and 2007’s Superbad – but while they’re high on laughs and gross out humour – they’re sadly low on genuine substance. Sure, losing your virginity is a big deal and a small part of being a teenager, but it’s not the be all and end all that the modern teen film makes it out to be. I know I’m in the minority here, but sex didn’t play a huge part in my high school experience. I was busy with being bullied, trying to get good marks, and dealing with the drama of friendship on hormones.
At first glance Will Gluck’s Easy A looks like it’s more of the same. The premise of a girl who earns notoriety as a result of rumours she instigates about her sexual promiscuity may well lead theatre-goers to believe that they’re in for ninety minutes of implied nudity, dick jokes, and somebody consuming something that they shouldn’t. Although God knows if there’s any bodily fluid that we haven’t been grossed out and entertained by already. I think ear wax might be all that’s left. It doesn’t get much play.
There is some foul language in Easy A. There’s obviously some sex jokes. But this isn’t a movie purely about a quest to lose virginity or to become popular. There’s a lot of intelligence and, dare I use the cliche, heart beneath the funny moments and witty dialogue. This is a movie more about the double standards associated with sex than it is about the pursuit of it. Drawing close parrallels to The Scarlet Letter, Easy A shows how a simple lie about sex turns Emma Stone’s Olive Prendergast from a non entity to a target for religious zeal and public scorn. And while the many male characters of the movie who claim to have slept with her are greeted with back slaps and high fives – there’s never any such treatment for the protagonist. Whether she’s being vilified by religious students (lead by Amanda Bynes in a fantastically hateful performance) or having Jake Sandvig’s tongue forced down her throat because he assumes she’s easy, Olive fast learns that while she gains temporary fame for her lies – she’s ultimately an outcast for failing to conform to the preferred social model of a chaste woman.
Beyond Olive’s predicament there are a other poignant side stories – most notably that of Dan Byrd’s homosexual character. Whether by brilliance or simple chance, the movie follows on the coat-tails of the recent slew of teenage suicides amongst homosexual males in the United States. John Hughes’ audiences may have lived in a time where homosexuality was still very much on the outer, but it’s a sad fact that we haven’t come so far from the days when homosexuality was a dirty word and Aids was ‘the gay virus’.
Without going into detail, Olive is convinced by Brandon (Byrd) to say she has had sex with him so that he’ll stop being bullied for his sexual preference. And while the ensuing ‘sex scene’ that follows is one of the more amusing depictions of the awkward act of losing one’s virginity, it’s also evidence of a sad truth – that despite all of our progressive talk and open minded politics, ‘gay’ is still a dirty word.
All of this deep subtext doesn’t at all detract from the film’s place as a comedy. Emma Stone has remarkable comedic timing, and there’s also witty contributes from Bynes, Thomas Haden Church (who isn’t aging gracefully at all), and Stanley Tucci & Patricia Clarkson as the kind of parents I think we all wished that we’d had when we were dealing with the awkwardness of growing up and surviving high school.
One character in the film asks “When will high school be over?’, and I think we can all remember a time when we asked ourselves or our parents that. When you’re fifteen it seems like the be all and end all, and too often you’re left on your own to deal with that. The kids of the 1980s had Ferris Bueller and John Bender and Samantha Baker to draw comparisons to. They looked at Anthony Michael Hall’s Ted or Emilio Estevez’s Andrew and they could see reflections of themselves. They weren’t alone in dealing with the pressures of high school life.
Easy A gives teenagers dealing with the high school experience a mirror to compare themselves against. None of these characters are perfect, not even the adults. They’re dealing with negative body image, issues of sexuality, bullying, parental and personal expectations, and the conflicted relationship almost everybody has with their home town.
And it does all of this without being preachy or overly serious. First and foremost, Easy A is a funny and enjoyable film. The ninety minutes fly by and you’re left completely satisfied by the film. You didn’t once glance at your watch or phone, nor are you caught wanting and needing more when the credits start to roll. This is a completely enjoyable movie that doesn’t get bogged down in trying to be too funny or too deep.
Easy A is not The Breakfast Club or even close to it. But it’s as close as a teenage comedy has gone in a long time to recapturing what it was that made John Hughes’s films so special to so many people. A fantastic cast and a witty script are utilized wonderfully by Will Gluck – and cameo appearances from the likes of Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm MacDowell, and Fred Armisen are nice touches as well.
Funny, touching, intelligent, and relatable – Easy A is a low budget comedy with a lot to love about it.