Pop Culture Princess

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Is Easy A an easy way to make teens enjoy required reading?

Getting a strong promotional push lately is the upcoming teen comedy Easy A,starring Emma Stone as Olive,an average high school girl who decides to help her gay guy friend out by not contradicting the rumors about the two of them getting it on at a weekend party.

The fallout from this leads Olive to sell her fakeout services to other outsider boys in school and as a symbol of her social defiance,she starts wearing a red letter A on her clothes using the classic novel The Scarlet Letter as her inspiration.

Granted,the differences between Olive and Hester Prynne are a vast chasm in more ways than one(for one thing,Olive doesn't have a baby with an unnamed father or a crazed pretending to be still dead husband to deal with)but parallels are obviously being drawn here to bring this material up a higher notch on the teen romcom scale:

This isn't the first time that classic literature has been used as the slim basis for launching a teen romantic comedy,altho the results are rather mixed indeed. Some books do lend themselves well to movie modernization while others are clearly stretching it thinner than a pair of size zero jeans.

You can quickly trace this trend back to 1990,when Amy Heckerling brought us Clueless,which took Jane Austen's Emma right into the chic shallow center of the 90210 generation. This movie is still considered one of the best teen flicks of that time period,loved by both pop culture fans and Austen enthusiasts alike.

Since Austen was a social satirist,amongst other things,to begin with,transporting her characters from their small country village to the just as small venue of an upscale high school was truly a perfect fit in terms of format. The film did inspire a short lived TV sitcom version but it's everlasting appeal is almost as strong as the original novel is:

A few years later,Shakespeare was snapped up for the same audiences with Taming of the Shrew as the plot line marker for Ten Things I Hate About You.

Instead of forcing the cranky Kat to get married,however,so that her sweet little sister Bianca could be available on the love market,just setting her up on a date with the offbeat yet manly Patrick was enough to satisfy the romantic misunderstandings and clash of personalities required for this rather raunchy romp to suit the PG-13 crowd.

Despite the dated tone of Shakespeare's battle of the sexes story,the movie was actually smart and funny, with a TV series adaptation made several years later that is still going strong. While both the film did use a less sophisticated yet stylish word play for it's characters,it wisely retained some of the sharper elements of wit and emotional development for which the original play is known for:

A weaker entry in this category took on another Shakespearean tale of mismatched lovers,Twelfth Night,but instead of sly wit and clever gender role related mockery,the cast of She's The Man had clumsy locker room jokes and kick to the crotch punchlines to offer up to audiences.

Since the initial intent of the film seemed to be to create a star vehicle for then NickTeen sensation Amanda Bynes,it's no wonder that the Shakespeare aspects of the story line were so sloppily done. On the bright side,at least Amanda's fanbase weren't subjected to a TV spin-off of She's The Man,a true blessing for all concerned:

Whether or not Easy A will actually induce any of it's target audience to read The Scarlet Letter(and not just the Cliff Notes version)is hard to say at this point. Nevertheless,using the film to encourage classic reading for teens is a good move for any teacher or parent setting up a reading schedule this season.

Even such tried and true material as Romeo and Juliet can be livened up with a fresh set of faces that showcase the time honored themes of tortured love as relevant to the teens of today as it was to the star crossed lovers of yore. Or in the slightly altered musical words of Mary Poppins,a spoonful of cinematic sugar makes the classical medicine go down that much better:

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