Easy A

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Alyson Michalka
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”)
Written by: Burt V. Royal (debut)

High school hierarchy is given a literary twist in “Easy A,” a teenage sex comedy that confuses clever dialogue with something better suited for the Diablo Cody school of excessive quick-wittedness. If you thought “Juno” was a bit too cheeky at times, there is no comparison to the number of silver-tongued characters brazenly stealing the spotlight from one another here.

Loosely inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mid-19th century masterpiece “The Scarlet Letter,” director Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”) transports the story from a small village in Boston to the halls of a gossipy high school where we meet our leading lady Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) doing everything she can to sully her goody-goody reputation.

It starts when Olive, under the duress of her nosey best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), is overheard lying about losing her virginity, a speck of information that quickly finds its way across campus through phone texts and good old-fashion whispering between classes.

Not very concerned with her newfound promiscuous status, Olive is actually surprised about how much attention she’s receiving for telling one little white lie. However, Olive spreads herself thin when her knack to stretch the truth without worrying about the consequences leads her to do charity work for some of the more unpopular boys of the school whose lives could quickly change for the better if Olive agrees to let people think she’s sleeping with them. In exchange, she’s paid with store gift cards to places like Office Max and Home Depot.

In a role too similar to Mandy Moore’s religious she-devil in 2004’s “Saved!,” Amanda Bynes plays Marianne, a Bible-thumping student who wants to save Olive’s soul before she ends up in hell with all the other floozies. The adults in Olive’s life include her hip parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) whose casual nature with their daughter works well for a generation that refers to their mom and dad by their first names. As married high school teachers, Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Hayden Church drag the plot into awkward territory.

If anything great comes out of “Easy A” it is the overall likeability of star Emma Stone. Regulated to more secondary roles in past movies like “Zombieland, “Superbad,” and “The House Bunny,” Stone proves she can carry a movie all on her own especially during the scenes where she video blogs to her online audience. Sure, she doesn’t have much help from co-stars this time around, but there’s something striking about Stone aside from her attractiveness. Look for her to scoop up all of the roles Lindsey Lohan would have earned if she wasn’t too busy passing out in her own vomit.

Despite Stone’s very enjoyable performance, “Easy A” is still all snap and no substance. First-time screenwriter Burt V. Royal was probably patting himself on the back as he churned out page after page of this script. On occasion it’s sharp. Most of the time it bludgeons us for the sake of a few one liners.

Bandslam

August 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelan Connell
Directed by: Todd Graff (“Camp”)
Written by: Todd Graff (“Camp”) and Josh A. Cagan (debut)

Until someone adapts “Twilight” into a vampire musical, tweens everywhere will have to put all their hopes into the coming-of-age music flick “Bandslam” to be the sensible replacement for three years worth of “High School Musical” dance sequences.

But when most of the young characters in “Bandslam” prove to have the personalities of cardboard cutouts one would find displayed in a mall music store to peddle new CDs, there’s not much to expect other than a few catchy songs and a script as fascinating as a cheesy message scribbled in the back of a high school yearbook.

In “Bandslam,” director Todd Graff, who helmed the 2003 film “Camp” about the students of a New York performance art camp, doesn’t have much of a leading man in Gaelan Connell. Connell, who looks like the lovechild of Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers”) and Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland”), plays high school dweeb Will Burton, an encyclopedia of music knowledge who is misunderstood by his peers and has become “comfortably numb” with his average life.

Aware of her son’s unhappiness, Will’s mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) decides they will pack everything up and start a new life in New Jersey. At his new school, Will quickly makes friends with loner hipster girl Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens, who explains that the 5 in her name is silent; how very clever) and ex-cheerleader Charlotte Banks (Alyson Michalka of Aly & AJ fame).

Will enrolls in school just as everyone starts talking about the upcoming music competition known as Bandslam. The talent show features the best high school bands (we’re not talking about the ones that march during halftime) in the city that are all vying for a record contract. Charlotte is set on being one of the two band chosen to represent her school. The problem is that their band Glory Dogs, a splinter group of Charlotte’s former band Ben Wheatly and the Glory Dogs, isn’t ready for the spotlight.

In steps Will as the band’s new manager ready to whip the group into shape and make the necessary changes they need to win. Everything basically falls into place pretty easily with Graff’s script. The band becomes too good too fast while Will and Sa5m discover that their friendship is turning into something more meaningful.

While Hudgens tries to break out her “High School Musical” mold and portray a character with a little more attitude, Sa5m, along with the rest of the characters, just aren’t fleshed out well enough to get past all the clichés and familiar storyline. It’s also not as witty as Graff would like it to be. Much of the dialogue is unnatural (“Emotions are overrated,” “I don’t do whys”), which drains the high schoolers of their charm.

All the rocking out leads to the Battle of the Bands-type competition and a surprise twist in the story that tries to tie everything together in the film’s waning moments. Emotionally, there’s not much to care about in the lives of these students other than their musical talent. But even that’s not enough when everyone – with the exception of Hudgens – seems like they’re lip-syncing and playing air guitar.