High school has been the fodder for some terrific dark comedies over the past few decades, the best of them being Heathers
, Three O'Clock High
, Mean Girls
, but Will Gluck's Easy A
, starring Emma Stone, is the latest attempt at capturing the dynamics of high school but one that lightens the cynicism with some of the heart and warmth John Hughes brought to his movies. More than any of that, it's incredibly funny.
Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a brainy girl who conducts an inadvertent social experiment by pretending to sleep with her gay friend (so his classmates would think he's straight) and quickly learns how fast the rumors are spread, something that quickly backfires as Olive is labeled "school slut" without having actually done anything. Inspired by "The Scarlet Letter," Olive starts wearing an "A" around school, which causes even more trouble for her from a group of ultra-religious Bible-thumpers led by Amanda Bynes' Marianne, and things just go downhill from there as Olive starts accepting money from other losers at school in exchange for similar services to make them look cooler.
Having previously directed Fired Up!
, Gluck really nailed this comedy with help from an amazing cast including Emma Stone, whose roles since Superbad
have proven she's more than a pretty face or a flash in the pan but a true comedienne following in the footsteps of Lucille Ball, Barbara Streisand, Goldie Hawn and other funny ladies. Having Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci play her hilariously inappropriate parents elevates the laughs even further, as does staffing the faculty of Olive's school with the likes of Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow and Malcolm McDowell.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Gluck a few weeks back to chat about the movie, heartened to know he was easily able to keep up with us in terms of quick repartee, but first, we had to try and recover from being blindsided...
ComingSoon.net: Oh cool. So I understand this is kind of a pretty hot script and it was kind of like, going around to everyone for a long time or something?
Wait, can I read you your response to it first?
CS: Read my response?
Yeah, they sent me all the reactions from all the people and they sent me yours. Can I read it to you?
CS: Oh, okay, sure.
Ready? "I liked it a lot, didn't love it, thought it had a great script and Emma Stone is amazing as always as were Stanley and Patty but it got a bit tiring in the last act where it started getting silly. I hated Lisa Kudrow completely. I did enjoy it because Emma's always great and it had a lot of fun moments."
CS: Oh great, so does that mean this interview is over?
(Laughs and puts on mock angry voice) "Put me through to Ed Douglas!" Just kidding.
CS: I did like the movie, but I'm a critic, and they did ask for my opinion, you know?
I understand. You hated Lisa because of her character or her performance?
CS: Kind of a little bit of both. It's funny because I liked her in "The Comeback" a lot.
I thought she was great in "The Comeback."
CS: She's amazing in "The Comeback" but I haven't really seen her in a movie that I've completely loved. I think sometimes when you're developing a character on TV, you have an entire season to make that character work, which is something she does well. But it's hard to say really because I've only seen the movie once.
She was good in "The Comeback." You felt such potential for her in "The Comeback."
CS: So aside from the fact that I liked the movie but didn't absolutely love it, this was kind of a pretty hot script that was going around for a while I guess?
Yeah, it was on the black list and then it got to me and I liked it and I said to the studio I'd like to take a stab at it and make it my own, and they let me.
CS: Was Emma attached already?
No, not at all. I auditioned everybody and then Emma blew me away in the audition process.
CS: Was she your first choice?
Once I saw the audition, she was 100 percent, yeah.
CS: I assume you had seen her in "Superbad" so had you seen her in anything else?
Yeah, I saw her in everything. I kind of started on "Superbad," but then "House Bunny" and then "The Rocker" too, people forget about that. I saw all her stuff before she came in and she came in and auditioned and just blew me away. I had all the actresses, after the audition come in, go to their house and do a little webcam chat of any scene in the movie and email it to me because the whole movie is a character. Four hours later, Emma emailed me her confessional scene, which is actually gonna be on the DVD, and I walked it over to the studio and pushed play and said, "Here she is." There was no argument.
CS: When you shot the webcam testimonials for the movie, did you wait until the very, very end to do that even though it was a framing device for kind of everything?
It was almost done on the second or third to last day because I do a lot of rewriting--as you might guess--in the middle of the scenes. I change stuff all the time, so I wanted to wait until the very end so we could comment on stuff. So then, yeah, that was shot like the second to last day. But the other thing I did is, Emma must've done three to four solid weeks of ADR because I changed the movie so much in editing and the great device we have with the webcam kind of helped us a bit.
CS: This must've been a really tight script, but there's a lot of things like the "Pocketful of Sunshine" gag, which I can't imagine being written in a script.
None of that stuff. Yeah, I added all that. Yeah, I did a lot of it.
CS: So you did have room to add stuff to the script, interesting. Obviously Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are just amazing in this, so I assume their parts got bigger in the movie?
Yeah, I wrote bigger scenes for them. I mean, I change stuff all the time for the actors, so once the actors came on board I crafted it towards them. The "Pocketful of Sunshine" thing was my daughter. I have young daughters and two years ago, one of the magazines, you opened it up and there was an advertisement for Verizon V-Cast and it was that song. They ripped it out and they kept playing it and it drove me bananas until the battery died, thank God. I actually took that same song, did that scene, and it was hard to clear that song when you say it's the worst song ever, but Natasha Bedingfield was really cool about it because she agreed.
CS: The longer you play the song, the more money she gets, so I'm sure she must have loved that.
Well, but by the end, Olive puts it on her phone, so she likes it in end.
CS: It was a great gag, because it's one of those things that really happens in life.
Exactly, exactly. Usually you have to change the song, but it was exactly the song that my kids would constantly play.
CS: It's also funny because usually you're trying to set up the story and that really doesn't have very much to do with the story but it's still funny.
Well, there's a lot of stuff in the movie. I mean like the Patty Clarkson scenes with Stanley, those scenes don't move the plot forward at all. They're just being the parents, so I had a lot of latitude with stuff like that.
CS: How about the rest of the cast besides Emma? Were people generally familiar with the script so it was easy to get everyone you wanted involved?
Yeah, it was all because of the efforts of the studio head Clint Culpepper, who just put his ass on the line and did everything he could to get this incredible cast for me. He gift-wrapped this cast for me. He tirelessly worked and delivered this cast and I was petrified after I made it. All I really wanted to do was make a movie that they weren't embarrassed about, so each time I showed it to them I was very nervous of their reaction, but they were happy. They said they were happy anyway.
CS: I'm really impressed by Screen Gems because they've created this pool of actors they use for a lot of different movies, which is rare these days.
It's like old-time studio, you know. Clint's is like that and once he likes you, he'll give you the world which is why he's amazing.
CS: The movies of John Hughes are an in-point to the movie, and they're referenced a few times, so what aspects of Hughes' work did you want to bring into this?
I'm a huge John Hughes fan. To say that he influenced my work is an understatement. Since I went to school in New York City, my only image of a real American high school was John Hughes' school from "The Breakfast Club." That's what I thought high schools were. In my other stuff, I used him as what high schools were. It's actually interesting because Emma didn't go to high school either. She came out to L.A. to be an actress, so this movie was made by two people that didn't go to a real American high school, which is kind of interesting.
CS: People obviously love those movies and they love "Heathers" and "Mean Girls" and even though they're cynical, they do show what the high school experience is like, so if they influenced you, then you probably have some idea what happens in regular high schools.
Yeah, and in fact, where we shot, all the extras are real high school kids, so it was very real and I kept asking, "Would they do this, would they do that?" right on camera, and they were kind of helpful in that.
CS: What's interesting about "Easy A," is that even though it has those '80s references, you still have to take into consideration edgier high school movies like "Mean Girls," so how were you able to create something for modern audiences while keeping that '80s aesthetic?
Well, the thing I did (is) I put a lot of '80s stuff in there. If you got it, you got it, if you didn't, you didn't. It wasn't integral to the story at all, it never took away from it. But then I put the clips of the '80s movies - remember you see the clips from the four 80's movies? Even if you haven't seen them, by the end of the movie when he recreates it, you've been educated on what she's talking about. I didn't want it to be this esoteric girl you haven't heard of. Even if you haven't heard of 'em, here's what she's talking about if she shows them to you. It was a little hard getting the permission, but we got it.
CS: Can you talk about casting Patty and Stanley? I actually saw Stanley's movie "Blind Date" in which Patty co-starred, and I might be the only person.
No, I saw it.
CS: You saw it? Okay, that's two of us. Well, I remember talking to him about the movie and he was saying how much he loved working with Patty, but I don't think either of us foresaw them doing something like this together. They're just perfect as her parents.
Yeah, well they're good friends and their friendship shows in the intimacy on camera. It was so fun working with them when they were together. They're just amazing and they're up for anything which is what I think is what makes them amazing. You know, Patty's in my movie I'm shooting right now ("Friends With Benefits") and she plays a completely different character, which shows you what an amazing actress she is.
CS: We don't really see Patricia Clarkson do a ton of comedy, but when she does it, she's amazing. She was in a Woody Allen movie, "Whatever Works," which was great, and she's really versatile in that sense. Did they end up improvising a lot of stuff or did they just take what was in the script and the way they naturally play off each other just came through?
The way I work is, like I said, I just stay right at camera and keep yelling out things for them to just try. "Try this, try this, try this" which probably get annoying, but they weren't annoyed by it and they just had a good time playing it.
CS: That leads me to one of my next questions, and I don't know if you've been asked this already, but what on earth did you do to Amanda Bynes to make her want to retire?
(Laughs) Well, here's my answer to this. I don't think that she's retiring yet.
CS: No, I didn't think so either.
Here's the story. The story is that three years ago she woulda said it to a friend and that woulda been it. Nowadays, because of the Twitter and the social networks she said it, and 10 million people know what you're doing. So it's beyond just an impulsive thought and now it gets broadcast to everyone. You can't take it back. It's very much like this movie, that rumors now travel at the speed of light. If three years ago, something happened, it would take three weeks for it to get around and by then it could've been repudiated or whatever. Now, it's instant. I mean, literally there's a shot I did when she looked and it goes through all her school and comes all the way back. That was in real time, six seconds, everyone knows about it. That's the kind of thing with the Amanda Bynes Twitter thing. That's the story there I think.
CS: That's one of the things I like about Twitter, that it's not filtered by the corporations or the publicists, although I guess that leads to stuff like that happening.
Yeah, it's fun if you're not the person doing it. I think all of Twitter is based on voyeurism and schadenfreude.
CS: As far as getting the rest of the cast to do all these crazy things, were they all kind of completely open to anything?
Yeah, they all kind of drank the Kool-Aid, and for this movie I'm doing now, it's great to have actors come in and just kinda know the kinda crazy way we work and they're all pretty amenable to it.
CS: One of the things about "Fired Up!" was that when you see the commercials, you'd assume it was a movie for girls, since it involves cheerleading, but it wasn't but it was produced by Maxim. Do you think about that when you're making a movie like this, to try to appeal to one audience or another, or not really?
No, did you see "Fired Up!"?
CS: I did see "Fired Up!", yeah.
I actually took Maxim's name off of it.
CS: Yeah, I remember.
No, not at all, not at all. It's funny, I get a lot of questions about whether this is a feminist character. I say, "I just really tried to do a strong character, that's it." It doesn't matter. You know, I don't really realize who this is for until the marketing starts getting geared up. I really just try to do what I like to do, so, I don't really do it that way. I probably should, but I don't.
CS: A lot of the young women I know just love this movie and I think that they relate to this more, whether it's the character or her situation. Other people do, too, obviously, or otherwise the movie may never have gotten made.
Yeah, that's kind of something that I really had no... we didn't at all set it out to make this movie for anyone except to try to make it good.
CS: How hard was it to keep it PG-13? Obviously, when you're dealing with this kind of material, you may want to go the Apatow route and have more freedom.
No, I always wanted it PG-13. To me, this is a sexless sex comedy. It's about sex, but you never see sex. I always like pushing the envelope with language. It's more fun making up words like "lemonbag" and "melonsqueeze" is much more fun than actually saying the sexual term, so I actually had fun with that.
CS: Considering the way you work, how much of this stuff ends up on the cutting room floor? Do you have a lot of DVD stuff later? How does that work?
We shoot an insane amount of footage, like millions of feet. There's a lot. I don't stop the camera at all, so there's a lot of stuff on the DVD and a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor, yeah.
CS: Have you already started assembling the DVD?
We're almost done actually.
CS: Would you say "Friends With Benefits" is more of an adult comedy, since you're getting out of high school?
Yeah, it's completely an adult comedy. They're late 20's and 30's. I'm making it in the style of the old '50s movies, the old Hepburn-Tracy movies, but I'm deconstructing that in the same way I'm deconstructing an '80s movie (with "Easy A").
CS: Are you actually shooting the entire movie in New York?
No, we shot an entire week in New York and now we're back in L.A. shooting.
CS: How was the shooting in New York for "Friends With Benefits?"
CS: I was doing research and I found a lot of DIY video of Justin and Mila on set.
Yeah, I mean, every single moment of our shoot in New York was documented online, yeah. It was fun, but it was crazy. I mean, we also picked Grand Central, Times Square, Central Park. I mean, we didn't pick any easy locations.
CS: How is it being able to be start working on another movie while you're finishing another one up?
It's very tiring. (Laughs) With all these junkets and stuff and the DVD, it's very tiring, but it's an incredible job I have, so there's absolutely no complaints.
CS: Since you're also writing while you're making a movie, do you do any other writing while you're directing a movie?
No, just to me, a lot of the directing is writing, that's a lot of it. So, it's all kinda part and parcel of itself. When I'm doing a movie, I'm just doing it. So the day before I'll rewrite the scene for the next day, so I keep kind of honing it in.
CS: You mentioned "Fired Up!" earlier. I interviewed Eric Olsen in Toronto last month when I was there for "The Thing" and I had to ask him about being a 31 year old playing a guy in high school guy.
What did he say?
CS: He was really nice to you and said that you were the one who convinced him to do it, but that he loved the script and had fun making the movie.
He's really funny. I mean, I may have made a lot of mistakes in that movie, but he's a really funny guy.
CS: I also heard you wrote a movie with the Broken Lizard guys. Is that something which might happen sometime in the future?
I don't know. It actually got heated up again, but yeah, that's kinda like a passion thing I wrote, so I don't know what's going to happen with that, but a couple weeks ago, months ago, that actually got back on track again, but I don't know what's gonna happen with that.
CS: Did you write that with them or did you just write a script for them?
I wrote that by myself. Jay's a friend of mine and I wanted him to produce it with me and that's what happened.
CS: Anyway, thanks for talking to me despite reading my criticisms of the movie. That was kind of shocking, but at least they didn't give you my review of "Fired Up!" as that might have gone a lot worse.
How dare you? (Laughs)
opens nationwide on Friday, September 17. Look for our video interviews with the cast next week.