Easy A (review)

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Sex Education

There has got to be a Remington Steele thing going on behind the scenes of Easy A. The director is credited as Will Gluck — but he made the atrocious Fired Up! which was not only an infuriatingly unrealistic look at teenage sexuality but completely misunderstood young women, so he must have lent his name out to a hungry chick filmmaker looking to bust into the studio boys’ club. The script is by, supposedly, “Bert V. Royal,” which is surely a pseudonym for some woman screenwriter who couldn’t get a break in Hollywood unless she pretended to be a man.
There must be women behind Easy A. Because if there aren’t, and men from Hollywood actually are responsible for this movie, why can’t they get it this right all the damn time? If men truly did make this movie, then the secret is out: Hollywood knows how to make movies about authentic female human beings, people with problems and issues and fucked-up-edness enough to maintain conflict for 90-plus minutes who also happen not to have penises. It just chooses not to do so 97 percent of the time.

This wonderful, hilarious, subversive film is a smart, witty smackdown to the slew of “dweeby teenaged boys on a quest to lose their virginity” movies we’re currently under barrage from, not to mention the general unfairness of how the universe treats women who own their sexuality. Easy A overtly shames the slut-shaming of our culture, the bizarre pressures that tells us girls and women that we must be sexy all the time, but for Christ’s sake, don’t actually have sex — except under certain strict conditions — unless you want to be labeled a slut, and humiliated for it. Boys and men may sleep with whom they want, whenever they want, as often as they want, and they are celebrated as studs… and there is no awkward, unsocialized teenage boy too unattractive in The Movies that he cannot get his cherry popped by the end of a flick by whatever hottie he has set his sights on.

Movies about girls losing their viriginity, however, simply can never be so cheerful about this rite of passage. Not in our world, which castigates women for doing the very thing our society and our biology drives us to do. Easy A, while it is clever and amusing, is hardly cheerful, at least not initially. And Olive (the delightful Emma Stone: Marmaduke, Zombieland) hasn’t even actually lost her viriginity! She just tells a little lie about having done so. For a brief, glorious moment, Olive enjoys a bit of cachet as the cool, grownup girl at her California high school. Soon enough, however, Olive’s experiment in owning her sexuality spirals out of control…

There’s something, ironically, refreshingly old-fashioned about Easy A, for while it is an honest howl for some sanity and some perspective in how we talk about and have sex, it’s also realistic enough to admit that our high schools are not one big daily orgy. Olive’s “admission” about having sex with an (imaginary) college guy causes such a consternation at her school because no one else is having sex. (One wishes someone would make a movie about a desperate, horny teenage boy in which someone takes him aside and reveals: “You know how all your friends are bragging about having sex? They’re lying. No one is getting laid. You’re not a weirdo for being a virgin at 16 or 17 or 19 or 25. Chill out.”) Olive’s best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka: Bandslam) — whom other flicks might have cast as the worldy “slut” to Olive’s innocent “good girl” — is still a virgin. Olive’s plight takes another twist when, out of her innate sense of fair play, and as a way to strike a blow against the forces of conformity at her school, she agrees to pretend to have sex with a gay kid, Brandon (Dan Byrd), who is being teased mercilessly for his homosexuality. A few hearty moans behind a bedroom door at a big party, and he’s cool and popular. And her favor turns into a service for nerdy virgins throughout the school.

And there it is: The boys who (supposedly) have sex with Olive are cheered. Yet Olive herself is heckled by the school’s Christian brigade (led by a very funny Amanda Bynes: Hairspray, Robots) and generally treated like a pariah. For why? Because she has dared to cross lines girls are not supposed to cross. Easy A does grant Olive some amazing support in her almost preternaturally compassionate parents — played Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Stanley Tucci (Julie & Julia, The Tale of Despereaux), who steal the movie — and in her literature teacher (Thomas Haden Church: All About Steve, Aliens in the Attic)… though Olive’s quest isn’t entirely without heartache in these areas, either. And what she decides, in the end, is the best way to deal with this virginity business is a smack in the face of all the voyeurs — including us voyeurs in the viewing audience — who are so weirdly invested in what is, really, such a personal thing, not a public event.

As satire goes, this is brilliant stuff. As an exploration of the tangled web of popularity and individuality teenaged girls have to navigate, and do so at more peril than boys do, it’s damn nigh unparalleled. More’s the pity.

Watch Easy A online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

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