So, I meant to watch Easy A twice this week. That was the plan. I would watch it twice and really have a chance to go through and form an argument. Then, life happened, and I only got the chance to watch it once. So, I shall try and make this Easy A review as not muddled as possible, but we’ll see.
I think the core problem with making this review not muddled is that I think the movie in itself is a little muddled. It’s definitely trying to make a point, if not several points, but I don’t think that point is as clear as the movie thinks it is. The movie is trying to address women’s sexuality, men’s treatment of women, religion, the changing of the times AKA the interest in 80s movies and how the new generation acts, privacy, and language (slut, whore, etc.) along with the fascination with right and wrong, truth and lies. It’s also trying to “make a statement” about making statements. That’s a lot to pack into a 90-minute movie that’s fundamentally about high school. It’s even a self-aware movie trying to examine the genre of high school movies which I think might be where the interest in 80s movies comes from. Its interests are so broad that the movie is trying to do too much. But first, let’s back up, and then we’ll decide what we’re doing with all of this.
Easy A is a film about a high school girl named Olive, played by Emma Stone, who lies to her best friend about having lost her virginity to a college freshman, a friend of her brother’s. Her best friend, a terrible character named Rhiannon, played by Aly Michalka, is refusing to believe anything else, so Olive just says they had sex. This rumor then spreads like wildfire throughout the school, and Olive gets branded, first figuratively by others and then later, literally by herself when she embroiders a red A on her wardrobe. Things get out of control when she starts lying about sleeping with others for their social benefit, and she then starts to internalize other people’s negative thoughts about her. She has to fight her way back to liking herself by broadcasting the lengthy true story online.
The film is directed by Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits, Peter Rabbit) and written by Bert V. Royal, who actually doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name, or really any credits. Easy A is Royal’s first writing gig on IMDB, so it makes sense to me that the script probably needed a little more cleanup. It reads like a very clever second draft that needed a third. The movie needed to have a clearer idea of what exactly it was trying to say as opposed to trying to say too many things. This brings us to my actual thoughts.
Seriously, what is going on?
Okay, so, obviously, the basic premise of this movie is pretty simple. Girl gets caught up in rumor mill and deals with consequences. So, why is the movie so overloaded with extra baggage? For me, the biggest example is the thread of religion that’s happening throughout the story. Obviously, the story is a loose adaptation of Nathanial Hawthorne’s Scalet Letter. The movie goes ahead and tells you this by constantly bringing the story up. Olive decides to emulate that film when she adds the red A to her clothing. The problem is that I don’t think the religious angle really goes with the movie they ultimately created.
Quite frankly, you can address women’s sexuality and society’s issue with them expressing it without bringing in religion. It would have been a more interesting film if people didn’t need to be religious extremists in order to judge women for their sexual choices. Granted, there are people in this movie who judge Olive who aren’t religious extremists, but the film doesn’t really focus on them. It’s far more interested in religion and how it impacts people’s behavior. The problem is that they’ve tied it in with everything else, and there’s too much of everything else.
I think the beginning of this movie is well done. I think the setup is there, including her ability to sew, and Olive’s actions make sense from the perspective of a teenager. Marianne is mostly just set up as someone who is willing to spread a rumor because she thinks that Olive is acting like a, uh, harlot? We’ll steal Olive’s word for herself and go with harlot. You also immediately see Olive’s relationship with Todd and how pushy and awful Rhiannon is. (Rhiannon is a bad person. Fight me.) Finally, perhaps most importantly, we hear about Olive’s struggle to be seen. We hear about it more than we see it, but still. We understand her motivations for her actions.
Then, we move into the meat of the story. I absolutely adore her relationship with Brandon. I think it’s incredibly well-done, and you understand Olive both through herself and her relationship with him. Unlike the later times, when she’s helping people out of pity or obligation, there’s a level of playfulness and understanding in her relationship with Brandon. They get each other. It is after her time with Brandon that this movie devolves, partly because he completely disappears from the story until a bit at the end. Like, seriously, he gets a couple of shots, but that’s literally it.
This is when the movie really ramps up with exploring everything. You have shady backdoor deals with the guys who are low on the social ladder and the quick devolution of Olive’s reputation. You have her relationship with Todd getting more personal, and Olive’s relationship with Rhiannon crashing. These parts make sense. But then you have the religious extremism and the guidance counselor cheating on her husband, Olive’s favorite teacher. These parts are fine? They’re fine.
Once you get to people literally protesting outside school to get her “diseased ass out of there,” I feel like we’ve hit a level of parody that I’m not sure the film was intending. The reason why I don’t think the film is intending it is that Olive’s reaction is so real and upsetting. She has a geniune emotional reaction, a new inability to deal with her life through humor. Humor has been her coping tool throughout the entire film, and she temporarily loses it. We’re nearing Olive’s low point in the film before she rises again. But now, it just seems bogged down with everything it’s trying to do.
The framing device
I just want to touch on this real quick before I stop because the framing device fascinates me. This movie is very much marked by the decision to frame Olive’s story through a webcam. She’s broadcasting her thoughts and her story to the entire student body and possibly the entire town. The draw is that she’s promised something sexual when really she’s just going to talk at them.
There’s power in the ending when we exit the framing device and go beyond it. Todd says, “They’ve had enough of you,” and it’s the truth. She’s given them so much, and now she has to give to herself. It’s a sign that she had to take back her own power, her own self-respect, and her relationships.
What I particularly find interesting is that she has to take back her power by telling everyone what really happened. The movie seems to saying, “there is power in truth.” But at the same time, Olive apologizes for telling her teacher that his wife cheated (the way she told him wasn’t great, but she still apologizes for telling him in general). The movie ends with her saying her relationship with Todd is no one’s business.
Do you see what I mean by muddled? I’ll stop now. But the movie seems to be imparting a lesson about privacy and how we talk about people, but I’m not sure it’s doing so effectively.
Just so you know
I really don’t want to give the wrong impression, though I’m sure I’m going to do that often. I love Easy A. It’s a good movie. It’s funny, warm, and well cast. Emma Stone is delightful in it. I just also really love picking media apart and figuring out what it’s trying to say, what makes it tick. I wish I had more time to dedicate to Easy A this week, but maybe I’ll come back to it in a video. Let me know below if you’d be interested in that.
That’s it. That’s what I got for you. I have more thoughts that I could go into, but I’ve probably rambled for long enough. Share your thoughts on Easy A below! I’m really curious to see what others thought of this movie and if they agree with me or not.