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.

All About Steve

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Hayden Church
Directed by: Phil Traill (debut)
Written by: Kim Barker (“Liscence to Wed”)

Even in Sandra Bullock’s airhead comedies like “Miss Congeniality” and ‘The Proposal” she can be cutesy and fun. In “All About Steve,” there isn’t one ounce of likeability in the moronic and deathly unfunny character she takes on for 98 minutes of pure torture. Bullock takes a big leap with this one and lands flat on her backside. It’s easily one of the worst films of the year.

Smart People

April 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page
Directed by: Noam Murro
Written by: Mark Poirier (debut)

Director Noam Murro isn’t director/writer Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding”) when it comes to scathing witticism between family members, but in his feature film debut “Smart People,” he manages to get in a few solid shots below the belt to give his characters enough spirit to last them through the entire fight.

In “Smart People,” Murro and screenwriter Mark Poirier tell the snarky story of the dysfunctional albeit intellectual Weatherhold family, who are well aware of their above average intelligence and carry themselves in such a manner.

Lawrence (Dennis Quaid), is a tenured college professor who doesn’t really like teaching anymore and always seems on edge probably because his manuscript is continually being rejected by important publishing houses. His daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page), is basically the mirror image of her father – bookish, lonely, and a tad mean. Her only worries in life include the number of academically-admirable extracurricular activities she can add to her resume and scoring a 1600 on the SAT. There’s also a brother character, but his role in the film is inconsequential except for the childish arguments he has with his sister.

When Lawrence suffers a seizure after falling from a fence while trying to illegally retrieve something from his impounded car, Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Paker) orders him to follow the law and stop driving for six months. With no one in the family willing to step up and become their dad’s chauffer, Lawrence’s slacker (and adopted) brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) moves in despite objection from Lawrence who knows the only reason he is volunteering is because he wants something.

With everyone under one roof, the family dynamic becomes more uncomfortable as Chuck attempts to get his niece out of her shell and Lawrence jumps into the dating scene again by asking the good doctor Hartigan out for dinner. At times, it almost feels like “The Royal Tenenbaums” with less snappiness and stylistic fervor.

The film hosts a wonderful, offbeat cast especially with Church as the cool, middle-aged uncle who smokes out and buys beer for his teenage niece. Call Church officially reestablished in the industry. With a gem like “Sideways” and now this, he can be a nice addition to any cast. The same goes for Page, who is coming off her best year as a young actress for her Academy Award-nominated portrayal of the titular character in “Juno.” In “Smart People,” she’s just as charming, but in a depressing and Republican sort of way.

In all, “Smart People” is a cleverly-written little picture that will probably slide under the radar unless your part of the indie house crowd. If you’re not, you’re definitely missing out on a stark, character-driven dark comedy that anyone with a bit of a snobby side can enjoy.