This movie is smart and fun but the very first thing it asks of us as an audience – to believe that Emma Stone is a forgettable, undateable nonentity – is an outright lie. I’m sick and tired of movies asking us to ignore the very thing they’re relying on to sell us tickets: the smokin hotness of its star.
Why are we constantly asked to think of a gorgeous woman as an ugly duckling? How dumb does Hollywood think we are? That we somehow won’t see through the ponytail and glasses, or even some simple clumsiness, to see that it was FHM’s sexiest woman all along? A Hollywood script may occasionally call for plain jane, but no producer has ever hired one. Solution? Take a super model, put her hair in a bun, and dress her in paint-splattered overalls. Done.
Nonwallflower Emma Stone plays a virginal Olive, a high school student with an altruistic streak – to help certain male students out, she pretends to slut it up with them, dinging her own spotless reputation, in exchange for mere gift cards. For some reason, though she’s lovely and sassy and genuine, only the audience seems to know this. Even her best friend deserts her as here little scheme begins to snowball. Although modernly narrated in the form of a webcast, this movie constantly references great(er) teenage movies of the past. Though less angsty, there is a great debt to John Hughes here. And I don’t doubt that despite the high school setting, this movie in many ways is marketed towards the 30-somethings who will get those references. Olive, after all, wise beyond her years – precocious in every way but sexually.
Actually, the most interesting people in Olive’s world are the adults. On the rewatch, I’ve realized that my favourite bits of this movie are her parents, played by the absolutely brilliant Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. It’s almost shocking, amid all the seediness, to see Olive have such happy, healthy parents who clearly cherish and adore her. Her family life looms large, a real tribute to Olive’s generational tendency to have parents who are also friends. Especially convincing is the mother-daughter relationship where Clarkson sparkles as the honest, post-hippie parent. Every moment they are on-screen is preposterous and tongue-in-cheekily indulgent. It’s easy to see where Olive gets her cleverness and self-assuredness. If all high schoolers were as grounded as Olive seems, movies like this wouldn’t have an audience to go see it.