As an army brat starting at yet another school, all Thomas wants is to fit in. When he meets jackie (Gemma Ward) life starts looking a little brighter. But then his pregnant mother (Toni Collette) is bedridden and his father (Erik Thomson) puts him in charge of his autistic brother Charlie. As Charlie's unusual antics increase, Thomas's pent up frustrations about his brother starts to pour out. Funny, confronting and heart-warming, The Black Balloon is a story about fitting in, discovering love and accepting your family
Through much of the beginning of "Easy A," you have to find all the '80s teen comedy homages fishy. Maybe director Will Gluck and Burt V. Royal are trying to dress up a classic Hughesian formula with modern banter and social media references. Then, somewhere near the halfway point, comes the admission. Olive, played by up-and-comer Emma Stone, confesses she wants her life to have a "Sixteen Candles" or "Breakfast Club" or "Say Anything" moment. Ah, and suddenly this is homage territory -- much better. Like the rest of this hip, fun and surprisingly touching comedy, any time "Easy A" wanders down the path of cliché, a killer line or great scene nullifies it.
It all begins and ends with Stone, who can do a little bit of everything, which ought to ensure her a long career. She can do typical teen comedy lead autopilot/earn our sympathy, she can command the improvisation-like tangential dry humor that has defined the comedies of the last five or so years and she can be the sensitive, fragile Molly Ringwald type. Nothing feels forced or unnatural in her performance. She seems to be having fun and milking to goofy nature of Royal's script.
More importantly, the reason "Easy A" is so good is because it never stops being about Olive's story. A high school nobody, Olive lets her best friend (Alyson Michalka) pressure her into lying about losing her virginity. The simple lie gets overheard by the super-Christian Miss Everybody (Amanda Bynes) and suddenly everyone sees Olive differently, or sees her period. After deciding to embrace the attention as school slut (the story reaches here a bit), Olive then starts to pretend to have sex with guys in need of a reputation boost, which consequently sullies her own.
The only real problem with "Easy A" is that there's no good reason to believe Stone was this unattractive nobody given her actual attractiveness and the friends she has -- and we're supposed to believe that suddenly everyone is interested in her because she lost her virginity. Gluck tries to spin this into a positive by making it almost comical how everyone is staring at her or waiting in a perfect line for her to come down the hall, but it's the one scratch in this gem -- take it or leave it. The script and humor and situations that arise eventually more than make up for this road bump.
Gluck's filmmaking is hip and common of modern comedy while the writing is clever and spontaneous. For no logical reason, a scene when Olive's gay friend Brandon (the one she helps first) comes over, Stone and Patricia Clarkson, who plays her mother, do this quick exchange of pretending they're in the Old South and a boy has come over and asked for her. Though completely random and a bit forced, they actually work well at making the characters seem more organic, which is the challenge of most comedies, especially those made today.
Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the parents are the comic relief. When was the last time parents in a teen comedy were genuine comic relief? They walk a fine line between wacko and genuinely caring and loving parents, but it totally works. Two more originally funny parents have don't exist in any movie. Characters such as the aforementioned best friend Rhiannon and Bynes' are more by-the-book as far as being teen comedy stencils, but like every other small flaw with the film, they're covered up by all the multi-dimesional and more interesting ones. Worthy of mention are school faculty members played by Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow and Malcolm MacDowell.
Most intriguing of all is how the film actually succeeds at finding moments of genuine drama. A few well-thought-out and creative plot twists introduce an intelligence seemingly foreign to these kinds of comedies. The key once again comes from staying focused on Olive's story. The film is structured as a retelling with narration from Olive, so it's told in a reflective manner, which ultimately keeps it from veering off course. It's about Olive wrestling with this lie and her feelings about how she wants to be perceived, along with her understandable pity for the boys who request her "services." High school's rough and reputation seems to be everything. Some elements of the high-school experience in "Easy A" might be way off, but that's dead on.
Although it lacks the intangible innocence of the numerous '80s comedies it references, "Easy A" has a unique and lively spirit of its own and is the best teen comedy (at least featuring a female, finally!) in years. More importantly, it shows that the modern teenage sense of humor and good storytelling don't have to be mutually exclusive.