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

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Post Grad


Post Grad

Nothing like a little picnic in the frozen food section to make for a truly unique date.

(2009) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Rodrigo Santoro, Jane Lynch, Michael Keaton, Carol Burnett, Craig Robinson, Kirk Fox, Fred Armisen, Bobby Coleman, Catherine Reitman, Andrew Daly, J.K. Simmons. Directed by Vicky Jenson

Graduating from college, especially these days, is like stepping through a door, only to find you’re thirty stories up with no floor beneath you. Like many of us, you either learn to fly or you splatter all over the sidewalk.

Ryden Malby (Bledel) has it all figured out. Get into the college of her choice? Check. Graduate with honors? Check again. Get a dream job at a ritzy L.A. publishing house? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh! That goes to her longtime nemesis Jessica Bard (Reitman).

Her carefully laid-out life derailed, she is forced to move back home with her Do It Yourselfer dad (Keaton), her long-suffering mom (Lynch) and her weird younger brother Hunter (Coleman) who dreams of soapbox derby glory while licking the heads of his elementary school friends. That kid’s got issues.

Also in the mix is Grandma (Burnett) who is picking out her tricked-out coffin and is generally rabid. There’s also nice guy Adam (Gilford) who is a friend who might possibly like some benefits although Ryden has her eye on the hot Brazilian neighbor (Santoro) who directs infomercials and is in this movie basically so he can take his shirt off.

Unable to land a suitable job, she eventually goes to work for her dad at his mall luggage emporium. He dreams of supplementing his income with a mail order belt buckle business. However, things begin to go south. Dad squashes the next door neighbor’s cat. The belt buckles he’s selling turn out to be stolen. Nice guy Adam, fed up with waiting on Ryden decides to go the law school route and heads to New York. Ryden’s carefully ordered world is unraveling and college never prepared her for it.

Director Jenson has previously done animated films like Shrek and Shark’s Tail. This is her first foray into live-action and it meets with middling results. The movie seems curiously static and lifeless in some places and the comedy seems forced which looks to be more a function of the writing than the direction. In fact, there are places that I wonder if there weren’t too many hands involved in the script i.e. studio execs trying to make this more palatable to a Disney Channel audience.

Bledel, who got notoriety in “The Gilmore Girls,” is a plucky heroine who hasn’t yet shown she can carry a feature film on her own. You would think she would have gotten the chance here, but oddly enough Jenson chose to put equal emphasis on a number of the subplots. It’s a shame; I would have preferred to see a little more focus on Ryden here but I imagine the temptation is when you have actors like Keaton, Burnett and Lynch to use them as much as possible.

They don’t disappoint. Keaton has the manic energy and offbeat timing that made him great in movies like Beetlejuice and Night Shift with a bit of the sitcom dad thrown in. He can dispense words of wisdom one moment then preside over a comic pet funeral the next. He doesn’t get the kinds of leading roles he once did but he still has it. It’s odd to see Lynch as the least quirky person in a movie, but here you have it. She has carved out a particular character niche for herself and she does it without peer. This is one of her more restrained roles yet, and it isn’t a career highlight.

When one sees Burnett playing the grandmother here, the first thing that comes to mind is “Now she’s reduced to this?” She is one of the great comediennes of her generation, certainly the equal of Lily Tomlin and Mary Tyler Moore. You would think the eccentric grandma would be beneath her, but then again that kind of role has served Betty White well.

Gilford, who is one of the fine young actors in “Friday Night Lights”, is given a thankless role that isn’t given a whole lot of depth. Nonetheless, he does a pretty good job making something out of nothing. However, the chemistry that should exist between him and Bledel isn’t really there, and that doesn’t help the movie any.

That’s an awful lot of criticism, but those who have stolen a peak at my rating might be surprised at how high it is. That is because the movie has a good heart at its core. Yes, the individual components are maybe not what they can be, but when you take the movie as a whole you walk away with a warm feeling. The family dynamic worked nicely and in the end they aren’t dysfunctional at all, which is somewhat refreshing in an era when families are depicted in comedies as real horror shows that might send a real-life family counselor screaming into the night, arms waving wildly overhead in a grim parody of Macauley Culkin circa Home Alone.

Needless to say, that doesn’t happen here. While I think the subject matter might have been explored better in a different way, there is at least something here that is pleasant entertainment, if nothing more and it is the nothing more that tends to set critic’s teeth on edge. If your standards aren’t particularly high, you can have a good time with this movie, and that’s really the way to approach it – just sit back, enjoy and don’t try to rewrite it too much in your head. That’s where disappointment is born.

WHY RENT THIS: While uneven, at the core the movie has a good heart despite the clichés. Keaton and Burnett are worth seeing in good movies or bad.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is a bit of a pastiche, sometimes of things that are cliché and bland. For some reason the movie doesn’t focus enough on its main character.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few choice curse words and some sexual situations, but nothing your average teenager wouldn’t be comfortable with.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Alexis Bledel role was originally supposed to go to Amanda Byrnes, but she had to pull out of the project due to other commitments.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of quiz-type games entitled “What Not to Wear” and “Find Your Match! The Best Job for You.” There is also a featurette on interviewing tips, generally skewed towards young women, as well as Gilford and Bledel giving career advice.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.4M on an unreported production budget; I’m guessing that the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Unstoppable

Drillbit Taylor


Drillbit Taylor

It's Owen Wilson vs. the world.

(Paramount) Owen Wilson, Leslie Mann, Danny McBride, Josh Peck, David Dorfman, Alex Frost, Troy Gentile, Nate Hartley, Stephen Root, Lisa Lampanelli, David Koechner. Directed by Steve Brill

Sometimes standing up for yourself is a lot harder than it looks. Once in awhile, in order to stand up you need someone there to help you get off your knees.

Skinny Wade (Hartley), portly Ryan (Gentile) and nerdy Emmett (Dorfman) are all being picked on by a school bully, Filkins (Frost) who is psychotic enough to give Freddie Krueger nightmares. Despite their best efforts the hazing continues so they do what any sensible children of rich parents do; place an advertisement for a bodyguard.

They have to wade through a list of candidates that range from the unsuitable to the downright bizarre before they get the right guy. Who they get is Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), a homeless ex-Army ranger who has something of a Zen style of self-defense and for someone who is supposed to be lethal is awfully laid-back. After his attempts to instruct them in self-defense go hideously wrong, he decides that he needs to take a more direct hand in their protection; by taking a position as a substitute teacher in their school.

Things go really well for awhile, with Drillbit striking up a romance with comely English teacher Lisa (Mann) and the boys finally getting some relief from the constant harassment. Unfortunately, Drillbit’s secret comes out – he’s not discharged Army, he’s a deserter – and that his homeless buddies, led by Don (McBride) see his arrangement as more or less an invitation to rob the homes of his “clients.”

Humiliated and disgraced, Drillbit gets ready to leave for Canada, something that he’s always wanted to do but never been able to afford to. However, his charges are now back in miserable Hell, getting seriously beaten at every turn. Will he turn his back on them and run, as he’s always done? Or will he stand up for his new friends? Better still, will they stand up for themselves?

This is yet another comedy from the factory that is Judd Apatow, who produced this; his buddy, Seth Rogen co-wrote it. Usually you expect an Apatow movie to veer off course into something original but that really didn’t happen here.

Instead you have a bit of a mess. The jokes aren’t really funny although in all honesty, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of humor to be had in kids getting bullied. What saves this movie from complete and abject suckiness is Owen Wilson. He’s one of the most dependable comic actors working today, and even though he’s been in a lot of turkeys lately, he is usually the best thing in them and that is no less true here. He’s totally miscast – can you imagine Owen Wilson kicking anybody’s ass? – but he manages to infuse the part with his laidback charm, enough so that you are thoroughly engaged by his character even if you don’t quite believe him.

The three juvenile leads are more or less cheap-ass knockoffs from Superbad nearly down to a “T” (Rogen also co-wrote that movie) which may or may not have been intentional. Personally, I can’t say for sure. They are decent in this movie, but they don’t really stand out.

I can’t really say why I didn’t like this movie – oh wait, sure I can. For one thing, the jokes didn’t really work for me. For another, I didn’t connect with most of the characters the way I wanted to. Even Drillbit Taylor, the lead role, in the end fell kind of flat for me. The movie’s pretty disingenuous – there’s nothing particularly threatening about it – but a good comedy needs a little bit of edge, and this just doesn’t have a single one. In fact, it’s like a big ol’ beach ball on a beach full of razors; you just know the outcome isn’t going to be very pleasant for the beach ball.

WHY RENT THIS: Wilson has a certain off-beat charm to him and the movie is generally harmless.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An attempt to make a John Hughes-style movie falls flat and it isn’t really funny enough for modern comedy audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some crude jokes (mostly sexual) and some fairly raw depictions of bullying, as well as a bit of partial nudity. Okay for older teens but I’d hesitate before letting the younger kids watch this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A friend of Apatow’s gave him an unfinished script treatment by the late John Hughes which Apatow gave to writers Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown to build a script off of.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Funny People

Charlie Bartlett


Charlie Bartlett

Charlie and his mom sing the theme song from Harold and Maude.

(MGM) Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, Tyler Hilton, Mark Rendall, Dylan Taylor, Megan Park, Jeff Epstein. Directed by Jon Poll

One of the curses of humankind is our ability to forget as adults just how difficult it is to be a teenager. We forget what it means to be ignored. We forget what it is like to be unheard.

Charlie Bartlett (Yelchin) would seem to have an ideal teen life. He comes from money – a lot of it – and while his father is nowhere to be seen (his absence isn’t explained until near the end of the movie and giving you any detail about where he is would ruin the movie), his mother (Davis) is around, so to speak. She is popping pills and booze like there’s no tomorrow, so Charlie pretty much gets to do what he wants.

Predictably, what he wants is to rebel against authority and he gets kicked out of private school after private school until there are none left. The only alternative is (gulp) public school. Charlie approaches his new school with all the regard of a convict examining death row. His fears are soon realized. Charlie, hopelessly ill-equipped for public school survival, wears a tie and jacket to school and carries a briefcase. He might as well walk up to the school bully and announce “I’d like you to kick my ass at your earliest convenience.” Said bully, in the person of Murphy Bivens (Hilton), obliges him regularly.

Charlie’s mom, believing that her son could use a little guidance, sends him off to a battery of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counselors, who prescribe him a variety of drugs. Charlie hits upon the idea of distributing these to the student body through his new pal and business partner Bivens, who recognizes a good business deal when he sees it.

Charlie also soon realizes his contact with psychiatrists and such have given him a little knowledge of the subject, and his status as a teenager gives him further insight into the teen condition. Soon, he begins having therapy sessions in the school bathroom and the kids, eager to be listened to by anyone, are lining up to vent.

Charlie also develops an attraction for Susan Gardner (Dennings), a pretty and surprisingly well-adjusted girl who returns his affections. This doesn’t sit well with her dad (Downey), who is as crappy a father as you are likely to see in a movie – when he isn’t drowning his sorrows in the study. You see, Susan’s dad has a thankless, nearly impossible job – he’s the principal at the school attended by Susan and Charlie.

Naturally, Charlie’s little enterprise doesn’t sit well with the powers that be and soon things come to a head. Charlie’s struggles against authority and authority’s tendency to react poorly to a challenge to that authority may land Charlie in deeper trouble than he has ever been in before.

Most teen comedies these days seem to revolve around unpopular guys trying to score with girls way, way, way out of their league. The bulk of them are raunchy and sexy, so it is somewhat refreshing to encounter a comedy aimed at teens that actually treats them with some respect rather than as hormone-crazed infants. Charlie is a fleshed out character who, while sharing a great deal in common with Ferris Bueller, still manages to be one of the most memorable 17-year-olds I’ve seen onscreen in awhile.

It doesn’t hurt to have one of the best actors of his generation to play off of, and Downey as usual delivers. He has a fairly thankless role that doesn’t require very much of him until near the end of the movie, but when the time comes for Downey to shine, he does with a vengeance. Yelchin is not a bad actor in his own right when he gets a good role, and he has one here and he makes the most of it. Sure, sometimes Charlie is arrogant and foolish but what teenager isn’t?

Yeah, there are some definite flaws here. For one thing, the adults are entirely unsympathetic on a nearly universal level; I understand the need to reinforce that kids feel un-listened to but I think that if you’re going to give kids credit to be smarter onscreen, give them the credit offscreen to be able to understand that not all adults are insensitive to their needs.

Still, this is a movie that has some ideas to share and while they aren’t always successful, director Poll and his team are successful enough to allow me to recommend this to teenagers unreservedly and to adults somewhat less so – certainly adults aren’t the target audience here, but those seeking out some insight into the teen psyche could benefit from a viewing.

WHY RENT THIS: An insightful theme that hits the mark from time to time. Terrific performances from Yelchin and Downey.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Like many movies meant to appeal to teens, adults are seen nearly uniformly as unsympathetic and/or flat-out stupid. Script is uneven despite the best intentions of the writers.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of rough language, some drug usage and brief nudity make this unsuitable for children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hope Davis, who plays Anton Yelchin’s mom here, also played his mom in the 2001 film Hearts in Atlantis.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The bathroom confessional scenes are re-created by the cast and crew.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Race to Witch Mountain