Your virginity in High School can be a risky status symbol in the world of Hollywood films; losing it can be your main aim, something to pursue to great comedic and personal effect (‘American Pie’), you can fear it for the deadly consequences (pretty much any American horror movie from the 80s), you can avoid mentioning it in an effort to avoid the social stigma (Anthony Michael Hall’s character Brian Johnson in the ‘Breakfast Club’) or just cross your fingers and hope for the best because you’re too damn confused by weird goings and/or time travel(‘Donnie Darko’, ‘Brick’ or ‘Back To The Future’).
This review is going to focus on the damage your sexual status can do to your standing in that most temperamental of hierarchies, the High School pecking order, specifically what unfolds when Olive claims to, as one character describes, have “thrown her cat” at someone (incidentally one of my favourite euphemisms since Monica referred to her “flower” in ‘Friends’).
The film in question is ‘Easy A’ and Olive is played by the superb Emma Stone. I doubt I was the only guy who fell more than a little in love with Ms Stone while watching ‘Zombieland’ and she continues to combine incredible comedic timing, stunning looks and a love for slightly odd roles in this film which riffs off ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and it’s themes of adultery and the social ostracism that can follow.
Olive’s story is one that highlights just how quickly a lie can move from rumour to widely believed truth in a school setting and just how impossible it is to reverse that process. A little lie about the loss of her virginity to get a friend off her back rapidly expands to the point where she is the school slut despite still being a virgin, a misconception she deliberately sends up by stitching a capital ‘A’ on a number of the revealing corsets she takes to wearing.
She’s determined not to back down to social pressure or stigma but as with the majority of people who’ve ever told a fib to change one small part of their life, lies have a habit of spiralling out of control with little concern for your original intentions. Soon she’s granting completely imaginary status shags to the outcasts of her school and earning a reputation she can’t hope to control.
Stone is superb throughout, backed up by a supporting cast including ‘Gossip Girl’s’ Penn Badgely, and genuine contenders for the crown of coolest parents in film history, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci. In the end though it is the 22 year old actress from Arizona that makes this film tick, injecting every scene with comedic value and a stubborn indifference to conventions that puts her in the same category as Ellen Page in ‘Juno’.
‘Easy A’ is a great film precisely because it is aware of its 80s predecessors; the final scene is sound tracked by ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’, a song immortalised in ‘The Breakfast Club’ and there is a scene that deliberately references one of the classic romantic moments from 80s cinema, which I don’t want to spoil here.
It is a film which understands its place in the grand scheme of Hollywood High School movies and brings a brilliantly late 2000s atmosphere to the genre, capturing the timeless themes of trying to fit in at school, wanting to find someone worthy of taking that big decision for and the reality that if you were to remove social cliques most students would have a remarkable amount in common.
For a high school comedy there’s very little focus paid to the jocks, that staple of cinema and school, with the main antagonists instead being from the evangelical Christians who take offence to the rumours about Olive, and this makes for a pleasant change from the standard themes, though I’d make an uninformed guess and say that it’s just as accurate a representation of the social perils of American High School, considering my understanding of the influence of the Christian right in America currently.
As with the majority of the 80s movies it referenced, whether directly or not, this film has a superb soundtrack, full of the kind of euphoric indie songs that make you want to despite your better instincts.
The 80s was full of a lot of political and cultural concepts that the world would have been better off without, but it was the decade that mastered the High School movie and ‘Easy A’ has proved, as ‘Mean Girls’ did almost 7 years ago, that the themes are timeless and just require a little update for the post Millennium generation.
Today's song is one from the same band I wrote about yesterday, something I normally avoid doing, but I gave the first two Elbow albums another listen today and I felt this song deserved posting, especially as a lot of people probably don't know it anywhere near as well as they should.