Easy A


Easy A

Emma Stone is going to stand out in any crowd - particularly dressed like THAT!

(2010) Teen Sex Comedy (Screen Gems) Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm MacDowell, Stanley Tucci, Aly Michalka, Fred Armisen, Dan Byrd.  Directed by Will Gluck

Who we are perceived to be is very rarely who we really are. Sometimes people just make up their minds about us and nothing we can say or do will change that. Other times we have a hand in deliberately misleading others about our true natures.

Olive (Stone) is an ordinary girl at East Ojai High School. She doesn’t really stand out among her peers; she’s just kind of there. Nobody really cares enough about her to pick on her, so she might well count her blessings. In a John Hughes movie, her classmates might have been tempted to play cruel jokes on her.

Her friend Rhiannon (Michalka) is anxious for Olive to come camping with her and her hippie parents, while Olive would rather have had her eyeballs spooned out of their sockets and fed to her as a frozen desert treat, so she makes up a college boyfriend to get out of it, preferring to spend the weekend alone. Monday in school, Rhiannon pressures Olive to tell her all about her weekend and Olive, mostly to get Rhiannon off her back, fibs about how far she went with her imaginary boyfriend. This is overheard by Marianne (Bynes), the Bible-thumping daughter of the local pastor (Armisen) who might have been the offspring of the Church Lady had she been raped by Satan.

Before you know it, Olive has a reputation as being somewhat available. At first, she’s appalled but as she finally begins to get noticed, particularly by the attractive Woodchuck Todd (Badgley) whom she’s had a crush on since the 8th grade, she begins to enjoy her new role a little bit.

When her good friend Brandon (Byrd) confesses to her that he’s being bullied for being suspected of being gay (suspicions which were pretty much dead on), he pleads with her to spread a rumor about the two of them getting on. She decides to make it more than a rumor by meeting him at a party and having loud but faux sex in a bedroom. This changes Brandon’s status from zero to hero and soon Olive’s dance card is getting filled with every outcast in East Ojai, all willing to pay her what they can to get their manhood card punched by Olive.

Of course complications begin to set in, some derived by the troubled marriage of foxy English teacher Mr. Griffith (Church) and his estranged wife (Kudrow), the school guidance counselor who made the incredibly foolish mistake of sleeping with one of the students. Olive offers to take the bullet for Mrs. Griffith which leads to worse complications, including Rhiannon’s decision to leave Olive’s shadow and join the Bible thumpers. Olive is fortunate to have the world’s best parents (Tucci and Clarkson) but can even they extricate her from the mess she’s in?

Gluck hasn’t exactly set the cinematic world on fire (see Fired Up!) but he’s done some fine work on some cult classic television shows (including the sorely missed “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and “Grosse Pointe”) and this is the Will Gluck we get here. The writing is also inspired, with sharp dialogue that while suffering from the “far too glib to be teenagers” syndrome, at least is clever.

While the plot is a little bit sitcom-y, it is handled with enough creativity to make it stand out among most comedies last year. Part of the reason it stands out is the perfect casting of Stone. You can tell that a casting director gets it right when you can’t imagine anyone else in the role, and so it is with Olive and Emma Stone. She has always performed capably in supporting roles; here she makes the most of a leading lady opportunity and shows that she can carry a movie on her own. She’s the center of this movie, so having the right actress in the part was crucial.

Kudrow and Church, both terrific actors in their own right, do good work here, as does Bynes in what was supposed to be her final role (she had planned to retire from acting, but later changed her mind). In fact, I thought Bynes – who I’d always dismissed as being something of a one-note performer – was surprising in a role that was a stretch and also poked some fun at her image. I look forward to her further stretching her reach.

All in all this is a reasonably (and somewhat surprisingly) smart movie that takes subjects of teen sex and the importance of peer acceptance, subjects that have been done to death, and makes something new and original of them. I’m not saying that Easy A sets the world on fire, but it is a surprisingly good movie that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would.

WHY RENT THIS: Stone makes good on her leading lady potential. Snappy dialogue is the highlight of a surprisingly well-written story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Clichés abound.

FAMILY VALUES: There are definitely some bad words and thematic elements that include teen sexuality, statutory rape and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The opening scene of the movie was also Emma Stone’s audition, captured on webcam.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD has a gag reel and an audition tape made on her webcam by Emma Stone (see above). In addition, the Blu-Ray offers a trivia track and a featurette on movies of the 80s and how they influenced this movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $75.0M on an $8M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Switch

A Beautiful Belly


A Beautiful Belly

Director Andrew Kenneth Gay (right) sets up a shot.

(2011) Dramedy (Candle Fish) Chris Worley, Lauren Brown, Michele Feren, John William Wright, Amy LoCicero, Peyton Lee, Raymond D. Sweet, Randy Molnar, Susan Morgan, Melissa Gruver. Directed by Andrew Kenneth Gay

One of the most important parts of the human experience is procreation. Our species requires it to survive, and in nearly every relationship the purpose of having children is at least an important aspect of why we get together.

Jason Ackhart (Worley) used to be a music teacher at a local elementary school until his position was eliminated. He yearns to be a children’s music performer, and has taken up the persona of Captain Jellyfish to perform at parties and such. He is married to Danny (Brown), a bartender and best friend of Rachel (Feren) who is married to Jason’s brother Will (Wright). Jason got Danny pregnant on their first date after a bible study class (Jason isn’t much of a believer but he had a thing for Danny so he went) and so the two decided to marry.

Will and Rachel have a preschool-age daughter that Jason dotes on but he is a little less sanguine about his own impending fatherhood. He hasn’t touched Danny in months and she is feeling unsexy, unwanted and a little unsure as to whether their marriage is going to survive. She decides to have some sexy pictures taken (or more to the point, Rachel decides for her) and she meets up with Nathan (Lee), a photographer who specializes such things. It becomes obvious that Nathan is attracted to Danny and she, to be honest, is quite taken with him as well.

In the meantime Jason has attracted the attention of Allison (LoCicero), an intern at a local TV station who is interested in building a show around Jason. She is also very attracted to him and is unaware that he is married, because Danny took his ring to get repaired. Even after he gets his ring back, he chooses not to wear it around Allison, possibly because he doesn’t want to lose his opportunity but also possibly because of his doubts around Danny.

Soon, their hidden secrets come out and the marriage reaches a crisis level. With the baby on its way soon, can the two of them resolve their differences? Can Jason get over his fears and doubts and learn to love the belly instead of fear it?

This is a first-time feature for a graduate student and teacher in the University of Central Florida Film Department and Andrew Gay has done a good job in turning a little into a lot. With a budget that wouldn’t cover lattes on a studio set, he puts together a good looking modern romantic drama that covers real world issues that while not necessarily sexy, have a good deal to do with what couples encounter every day.

He is fortunate to have some terrific actors at his disposal. Orlando doesn’t necessarily have a great reputation when it comes to turning out talent despite having a thriving film scene; however, this is the kind of project that can really showcase how talented the actors are around here. Worley, making his screen debut, is fine as the sad-sack Jason, lost in a set of circumstances that have overwhelmed him. Wright makes a fine big brother, wise and a bit of an asshole. In other words, just like most big brothers (I know because I am one).

Lauren Brown has a gorgeous smile; she plays the part of Danny well; I saw Danny as slightly inhibited – a product of her Christianity perhaps – but certainly one who enjoyed sex, and the pain and uncertainty Danny felt at being refused by her husband, that thought that she was not attractive, was palpable so kudos to Brown for that. LoCicero and Lee also did good jobs as the attractive distractions. They brought some humanity to parts that are usually fairly undefined.

As with most first films, there are some issues but few and far between. My biggest one is that the addition of the “other woman” and the “other man” seemed a bit like rom-com contrivances. I would have preferred to see them concentrate on the real issues in the marriage rather than the imagined ones – or else turn those imagined issues into real ones.

This is going to be a hard one to find; after making its debut at the Florida Film Festival. It’s likely to be seen on the film festival circuit over the next year or so and the filmmakers are planning on releasing a DVD, hopefully out in the late summer – check their website for information over the coming weeks.

However, finding it is worth your while, especially for aspiring filmmakers who want to see how to properly make a first film. Not only them, but for new couples thinking about having a baby. This won’t scare you off of the idea, but it can give you an idea of some of the pitfalls. Hormones are a bitch!

REASONS TO GO: Some insight into relationships and dealing with pregnancy. Solid acting and a decent story.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the story points were a bit too contrived. Ending seemed a bit rushed.

FAMILY VALUES: Most of the subject matter revolves around pregnancy and there’s some humor and themes around it. There’s some drinking and a few mildly bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The story was based on an actual incident in feudal Japan, and was previously made into a black and white movie in 1963.

HOME OR THEATER: This is as intimate as it gets; it will work as effectively at home as it does on the film festival circuit. See it either way.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Your Highness