Juno 2: Fun with Words
Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes
By Robert Patrick
Teenagers can be pretty bright, don’t get me wrong, but in “Easy A” they speak like they are Pulitzer Prize winners and poet laureates. “This is Puritanical ostracism!” Emma Stone, the lead actress in the film shouts, while speaking with her teacher. Puritanical ostracism? Wait, what? Then, before I can catch my breath, there are jokes being spit by the cast that involve naval blockades and turn of the century fascism – and don’t let me forget about those current event punch lines that involve Sylvia Plath! (Two people in the theater nervously chuckled about a zinger that involved her suicide.) Every teenager in the film apparently flirts with words such as “cavalier”, “pious”, “anagram” and, my personal favorite, “downtrodden”. All of this looks clunky and awkward in the context of a breezy teen comedy. This movie is Diablo Cody lite.
The film’s novice screenwriter is Bert V. Royal, whose name is even regal sounding. I can only hope that he re-watched “Juno” ten straight times, while feverishly thumbing through the Oxford Dictionary, before he wrote the script for “Easy A”. Royal’s screenplay is the Dresden of the English language; I have never seen something so carpet bombed with ten cent words. No one speaks like this. Are these high school kids English professors in their mid-sixties? None of this dialogue is believable, relatable, within a earshot of being natural. This dialogue, for lack of a better word, is ridiculous. Here, as a skewed nod to the screenplay, I looked up a word that the movie would be proud of: floccinaucinihilipilification. What’s the meaning? “The act of estimating something as worthless”. Pretty much sums up most of this film.
Now that I have been stoning the screenplay, we should talk about the premise of the film, which is essentially a loose interpretation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”. Only instead of set in 17th-century Boston, it’s set in a modern day high school (poor Hawthorne must have scorned someone to deserve this kind of bastardized treatment of his work). In this particular educational facility, Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is a virgin who, because of a rumor, ends up becoming what everyone believes to be the school’s floozy. Of course this is not true, but Olive perpetuates the stories to help nerdy boys look like they had made it with someone, thus enabling them to look cool around campus. In the process she realizes that she is ruining her reputation for the benefit of others, gets in a fight with Amanda Bynes (who is a uber-religious zealot not unlike Mandy Moore’s character in “Saved”), and makes wacky one-liners that revolve around the Civil War and Mark Twain, two things that teenage audiences are most interested in.
The real cause for celebration is due to the older cast members; Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are hilarious as liberal parents who make spitfire observations about their daughter’s life. These democratic parents are much funnier than the unfortunate pairing of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman in the shameful “Meet the Fockers”. I practically wanted a lobotomy by electric drill after that film. The ever eccentric Malcolm McDowell also shows up in “Easy A” as an exhausted principle who wants nothing more than to be left in peace. This is McDowell’s best role since 1997’s “Hugo Pool”, where he shot up a ventriloquist dummy with heroin. The one fault with the adult cast has to be Lisa Kudrow, who plays a guidance counselor at the high school. Kudrow looks like a crumbling resin statue.
“Easy A” isn’t a horrific experience by any means, but it longs to be so many other films that it never finds its own identity. The film actually speeds through a montage of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe films from the 1980s at one point. The whole thing is a little contrived and not all too eager to have its own mind and soul. If you’re going to see it, make sure to realize that you’re going to bask in a diluted “Juno” with some occasional good moments from Tucci, Clarkson and McDowell.