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Easy A

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // December 21, 2010
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 13, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Something's brewing with Emma Stone's talent. Since she began following the momentum from Superbad, where she plays the quirky apple of Jonah Hill's eye, her comedic talent has been taking shape in charming secondary roles -- from a not-to-hot turn in The House Bunny to her hard-ass gunslingin' in Zombieland. Easy A, a teenage comedy about abstinence and the cascade of communication in high-school, marks the stress-test for Stone's proclivity as a leading lady, ratcheting up her eccentricity for the spotlight's glare. "Grosse Pointe" writer Will Gluck directs this clever, cute spin on themes from "The Scarlet Letter" that proves an ideal frame for the actress' talent, a vibrantly easygoing patchwork of other comedies of its ilk that pays tribute -- both verbal and non -- to John Hughes's work. It's Emma Stone's charisma, though, that reconstructs the saccharine scaffolding into a memorable and often sincere experience.

Stone plays Olive, a run-of-the-mill student at Ojai High School who's often overlooked by her peers. She's not the geeky She's All That brand of anti-social girl, just someone who doesn't stand out from the crowd like her blond-'n-curly friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). That all changes, though, when a stiff bible-thumper named Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears the two girls' bathroom conversation, a flippant talk where Olive fibs about a sexual relationship with a college guy. What starts as Olive's off-the-cuff attempt for brush off her friend turns into a mini-monsoon of gossip, transforming her stature from invisibility to sticking out like a sore thumb. Yet instead of quashing the rumors, all untrue since she's still a virgin, Olive embraces them once she gets a taste of the fawning popularity that a "sexually-active" girl generates. It's when the lies intensify, and Olive plays with fire by solicits her fibbing services, that things mushroom out of control.

Easy A isn't a pioneer with the troubles that Olive endures -- only reaching a point of novel reflection later on in her reckless endeavors -- but that doesn't stop it from being a pleasurable, well-executed one. Her break-from-the-mold emergence fits somewhere between the contexts of peer perception in both Juno and Mean Girls and the morality machinations in Saved!, though Olive's satirical confessions say little more than its influences. And the vibe throughout radiates that of John Hughes' earthy discernment of teenage angst, bloating the characters into caricatures yet keeping them anchored with inherently human traits. It's all very familiar, even down to Olive's accepting hippy-like parents, whom Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson delightfully portray. Her family's conversations, especially one over their adopted son's lineage and another over a vulgar word that plants Olive in detention, earn the film's heartiest laughs.

Gluck's true strengths, though, lie in the amusing ways he and his screenwriter perceive communication in Easy A, along with how the ideas stirring around Olive tie into Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel about burning witches at the stake. From the sweeping shot of gossip's pathway as it cycles through the school's hallways to the fickle shifts in acceptance of Olive's "transgressions", Bert V. Royal's rhythmic and quick-witted script remains infectious as it weaves around all the simmering scrutinizing chatter. As Olive's dual-wielding reputation thrives -- as an experienced harlot with the masses and as a gifted liar with those that solicit her embellishment services -- she sardonically begins wearing a red "A" on her chest. It's a brilliant move she cooks up in a dervish of Victoria's Secret lace, red fabric, hormones, and contempt towards the gossip machine, using Hawthorne's symbolism as a quick springboard into empowerment.

But, really, Easy A's components only serve as the perfunctory surroundings for Emma Stone's comedic delivery, which the young actress molds into faultlessly. She takes Olive's facetious quirk and makes it absolutely magnetic, taking her confession-style webcam broadcast and turning into a telling and funny chronicle. Even though she generates humor when she rubs elbows with her gay friend (her first "customer", played by Dan Byrd), flirts with her costume-wearing crush from grade school (Penn Badgley), and uncomfortably accepts both scorn and airtight hugs from Christian zealot Marianne, she reinforces the comedy with an innate ability to give off tenderness in the serious moments -- including one in a Catholic confessional that shows she's got plenty of tried-and-true dramatic talent alongside her humorous punch. Simply, she takes the framework in Gluck's film a cut above, proving that well-chosen casting can make all the difference.

The DVD:

Video and Audio:

Easy A arrives on DVD in a 1.85:1-framed widescreen-enhanced presentation that amply handled the highly-stylized, warm visual presentation that Will Gluck and cinematographer Micheal Grady are going for. Sony's typically been extremely comparable in the way they handle visual transfers between day-and-date Blu-ray and DVD releases, and this one holds up that consistency. Lots of vibrant colors can be found scattered throughout the film, photographed in a way befitting many other tightly-framed comedies of its ilk, which this disc nimbly handles. The pop of Olive's scarlet "A" will always stand out, the fineness of skin textures and tone look appealing in the broad range of close-ups in various lighting, and the film's range of motion never leaves a pixel out of place. Compression does get a bit heavier than expected at a few moments and the dimensionality in the image just merely satisfies, as does the middling black levels, but overall it's a crisp, lush, and very satisfying presentation of a colorful picture.

Audio comes in a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 track that gives off the same radiant, crisp attitude as the visual transfer. Punchy dialogue mixes with pop music in a modern rhythm, robustly balancing against each other. Emma Stone's middle-riding alto tone always sounds lively and audible, with Stanley Tucci and Thomas Haden Church rumble on the deeper side of the lower-frequency channel's verbal line. The smacks of hands against walls, swoosh effects, the strumming of a guitar, splashes, and cellphones going off all sound natural and apropos to the film's intents, never distorted or inaudible to any degree. Also, the music offers a healthy punch to the lower-frequency track, allowing drums to potently rattle against the bass stream. For a comedy, the balance and clarity come awfully close to rivaling a high-definition audio presentation, only creaking in a few unavoidable areas. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish language options, while both a French and English Descriptive 5.1 tracks are available.

Special Features:

Sadly, the supplemental content for Easy A's DVD aren't in abundance, receiving the cold shoulder while the Blu-ray receives a more plentiful array of special features that include making-of bits and other ephemera. An Audio Commentary with Will Gluck and Emma Stone can be paired with the feature, which stays conversational and upbeat even when it hits a few awkward patches. The director-actor duo spill the beans on the Ojai-based high school and how most of the extras are actually kids that attend the school in real-life, how Stone and the crew essentially holed up on a shooting stage for 14 hours to hammer through all the webcam footage, and how the fake-sex scene was shot over the course of two days -- which were very far apart, nearly bookshelving the entire shoot schedule. Along with that, a Gag Reel (5:21, 4x3) and Emma Stone's Webcam Audition Footage (1:15, 4x3) round out the extras.

Final Thoughts:

Easy A's a sharply-written little tack of a teenage comedy, pivoting around "The Scarlet Letter" for its context as it sends up the waterfall of sexually-driven gossip in high-school. But without Emma Stone, it wouldn't have been nearly as effective, either for its quirk or its jabs at dramatic reflection later in the film. Stone's delivery as Olive ascends her into a pivotal role as a capable comedienne, making the slightly cut-above comedy a real charmer. Those who have seen Saved!, Mean Girls, and other quality satires on the teenage mindframe will find another quality addition to the oeuvre, one that thinks similarly but with a fresh face that contrasts their tone. Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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