Rules Of Engagement: Easy A and the laws of Highschool-land

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The Laws Of Highschool-Land are clear and sharply defined. As a citizen of the state, there are certain people you must be friends with, certain things you must wear, certain actions you must carry out, certain things you must say. As long as you stick to those rules, then you will be safe and content, and nothing will ever happen.

Which is why those rules are designed to be broken.

Easy A is the film that catapulted Emma Stone into the arms of Spiderman. It’s clear to see why. She’s pretty, sparky and wisecracking. She inhabits her role with a bit more verve than some, which is just as well. Because that role is as proscribed and defined as everything else in Highschool-land.

The story is kindasorta a modern spin on the old tale of The Scarlet Letter, in which poisonous rumours gather against a blameless victim. In Easy A, there’s a twist. Olive, our heroine (Olive? Who the hell calls a kid Olive nowadays?) starts the rumours herself, for reasons that I never really got a handle on. As the rumours spread, she realises that she is not going to suffer in silence, and begins to parade around school dressed up like Sandy at the end of Grease, sporting a big red A on her clothing to make the point. As one of the rules of Highschool-land is that no-one learns anything in class, her subtle clue goes unnoticed.

She starts to gain not only a reputation as the school slut, but also some income. The dorks and dweebs of the school pay her  to lie and say that she played baseball with them or whatever that weird American metaphor for shoving one’s hand up a girl’s blouse is supposed to be. Why she decides to do this is also not properly explained. Pity for the class fatty, or helping a gay friend to not come out aren’t really reasons. They’re plot devices.

Eventually, of course, the fiction spins out of control and people start getting hurt. Olive tries to get people to take things back, but doesn’t offer a refund, then gets surprised when her ex-clients don’t want to know. Clearly, she’s not a business major. Eventually there’s some shenanigans with a live webcast, she explains everything and the reset button gets hammered. There’s a kiss at the end. There’s always a kiss at the end.

Easy A is light, bright and funny, but its attempts to be a commentary and satire on Highschool-land fall flat. The film is too bound by the rules. All the tropes are here. The vain, shallow friend. The straight-to-camera monologues. The villainous caricature set up as opposition. The eccentric but understanding parents. The kindly teacher. You could play the Highschool-land drinking game with Easy A and max out your liver before the end of the first act. Olive even gives us some clips from classic John Hughes movies, and as Ferris bopped on a float, Cusack raised his beatbox high and the sainted Molly smiled, I realised how little this film had to offer compared to them. It’s a decent enough example of the genre, but that’s it. It’s too locked into the rules, and owes too much to older and far more interesting films.

The laws of synchronicity dictated that TLC and I saw Easy A the day after the first London Slutwalk. Based on a Canadian protest following a Toronto policeman’s statement that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being victimised, the idea is to challenge the twisted notion that the way a woman dresses or acts is somehow an invitation to assault, or worse. The streets of London were filled with brave, beautiful people, dressed as they pleased, as slutty (or not) as they liked.

Olive’s doing something similar in Easy A, but the message is a bit more confused. If her peers look on her as a slut, then that’s the costume she’ll wear. She’s reacting to expectation, rather than carving her own path. That’s a real shame, because there’s a kernel of something interesting at the heart of the film. It’s just buried under the generic high jinks.

In short then, Easy A is a film bound and gagged by the laws of Highschool-land. It’s content to cruise on the charm and verve that Emma Stone brings to the lead role, rather than deliver something that could easily have a little more bite. More Mean Girls than Heathers, alas.

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Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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