Easy A (2010)

Published on August 3rd, 2011

Alex recommends Easy A while looking at Emma Stone, John Cusack, and perception.

Last September was probably the peak of Emma Stone’s ‘It Girl’ status, when her supporting roles in movies like Superbad and Zombieland lead to her being the star of Easy A. When that movie was released, her star was probably at its highest point; people seemed to like the movie, and people seemed to like her in it, for good reason. She’s an incredibly charismatic actress, so charismatic that she often confuses people into thinking she is physically attractive. But aside from that, she also has great comic timing, as well as an impressive amount of physical comedy skills, and she can be a half-decent dramatic actress when the time comes. Basically, she has all of the ingredients necessary to be the lead in a teen movie that doesn’t suck.

In order for the movie to work, Easy A requires almost as much suspension of disbelief as Avatar: the whole plot revolves around the fact that nobody is having sex in the California high school that Stone’s character, Olive Penderghast, attends. Nobody! Once Olive lies about having sex with somebody, the rumour spreads, and Olive has become the school slut. From there, she uses her newfound reputation to help out a variety of bullied kids by allowing them to say that she had sex with them in exchange for Amazon.com gift cards. It’s basic stuff, but Stone is great, and so is the rest of a cast that includes Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, Dan Byrd, Amanda Bynes, Lisa Kudrow, and the Other Tucker (who is somehow occasionally funny in this without talking about old school Elvis Costello records and obscure podcasts). And if you aren’t sold on the idea of Stone being an enjoyable actress, here you go:

Thematically, the movie is more interesting than one would guess. Easy A deals a lot with how perception is really all that matters, and while the movie takes place in high school, that rule applies in most places. If everybody thinks you’re a slut, regardless of whether or not you are, you’re a slut. This is just how things work. But aside from that, the movie is simply entertaining, and features a number of callbacks to 1980s teen films like Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, and the one where Patrick Dempsey rides away on a lawnmower at the end. The movie is also told in an interesting, fourth-wall breaking kind of way that is something I have an affinity for. I enjoyed the movie when I saw it last September, and I enjoyed it again last night after having my interest in Stone re-sparked by Crazy Stupid Title.

I’m curious to know where Stone’s career goes from here. That Easy A proved Stone could carry a movie allowed her to be cast as Gwen Stacy in next summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man, and some upcoming mob movie with Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling. We’re probably finished with people being surprised that the redhead from Superbad is better than that role allowed her to be. I hope Stone goes onto wild success in every movie she’s in, and I’m hopeful that she will, but I also kind of hope she doesn’t stray out of her comfort zone too much if things start to go sour.

The world seems to be coming around to the idea that John Cusack isn’t particularly good at his job, or at least isn’t good very often. I don’t care how much you misguidedly enjoy Con Air, that guy kind of sucks. He’s good in High Fidelity, fun in Grosse Pointe Blank and Being John Malkovich, but otherwise just kind of tries to stay out of the way. Cusack himself tends to agree that this is true; while promoting the mediocre horror movie 1408, he told The Guardian that he has only been in ten good movies, choosing to forget the rest. Looking over his filmography, I suppose ten is an acceptable, albeit slightly high number. But he played a tiny role in The Thin Red Line, and that’s certainly one of the ten good movies, despite Cusack not actually being particularly good in it. What about his small role in Sixteen Candles? Is he counting that one? Cusack has played two memorable lead roles in his career, roles that it doesn’t feel quite right to cast anybody else in. One is his performance as Rob Gordon in High Fidelity; the other is so obvious that I shouldn’t even have to name it.

The Boombox Moment is weird to me, and always will be. The movie sucks. The song sucks. Ione Skye sucks. Cameron Crowe sucks. John Mahoney robs old people. Yet all people can remember about the movie is that goddamn boombox scene, regardless of the fact that Lili Taylor’s character is far and away the best part of the movie. And it is only because that one moment somehow resonated with a huge number of people that the movie is remembered today. People still seem to think Cusack is good looking, despite the fact that he’s got a small mouth and looks depressed constantly. John Cusack owes his whole career to that pouty facial expression, tired arms, and Peter fucking Gabriel.

I’m all for an actor trying new things: if Emma Stone wants to do more drama movies, that’s fine. The Help will exist regardless of how I feel about it, and I might be compelled to see it simply because Stone is in it. What I don’t want is for Stone to make poor choices if it turns out she fails to pick dramas that match up with her strengths, or if she is just not good at picking non-comedy roles. I don’t want her to be 40something saying she has only been in 10 good movies, and I especially don’t want her to pick a number that is too high, like Cusack did. Stone doesn’t have any sort of Boombox Moment, but Olive Penderghast is her Lloyd Dobler; she is absolutely perfect for the role. Stone plays a charming, self-aware goofball who seems to be pretty comfortable with herself; Olive was the person fans like myself viewed Emma Stone as before Easy A, and the masses’ perception of Emma Stone are essentially the same now because of that role. Like Cusack as Dobler, Stone fits into the character so well that she earned a number of new fans, and like Cusack as Dobler, that the character is such a perfect fit convinced these fans that the person playing them is good looking. I still don’t think Cusack is good looking, but my opinion hardly matters because I don’t care for Dobler. And viewed objectively, I don’t think Emma Stone is particularly good looking. But I like her as an actress, and every interview I read with her makes me like her even more. She is charming, self-aware, and comfortable with being ridiculous. And because of this, Emma Stone is super, super foxy.

Cusack didn’t seem to have a lot of trouble getting dramatic roles, partially because Say Anything is fairly dramatic, and I doubt Stone will, because people in Hollywood seem to adore her. But as a fan, I hope she makes good choices. I don’t really want to see The Help, and I probably won’t. And that’s fine: do your thing, Emma. Actors aren’t here to make their career decisions based on what we want, unless that’s what they choose to do themselves. I just don’t want things to get to a point where Emma Stone is only being cast because people still perceive her as what she used to be, as opposed to the depressing, untalented person she has become. For people like myself, she’s Lloyd Dobler-esque. And I just want everything to be alright for her when the airplane’s seatbelt indicator turns off.

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