Thursday, December 23, 2010
A is for Ass-kicking
Two movies in which women aren't support systems for men but getting up to all kinds of trouble of their own, and that during the stupid season.
In the more commercial Easy A, Emma Stone plays "an average school girl" who tells a lie about losing her virginity as a joke and sets off a rumour mill that spirals way out of control. The book she is studying at school happens to be The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which exposes Puritanical America's sour little heart to the core.
This film cleverly continues that fine tradition with something most films these days lack: charm.
Stone, of course, does not look or act like an average school girl. She is the all-American redhead - tall, wide mouth, slight lisp, knowing voice over. She could play anything from a slightly older Lolita to a Kathleen Turner who launched a murderer in Body Heat. She is so charged with suburban sexuality that she just has to walk to exude her own erotic subtext.
Secondly, it's a pity that her very hip parents, played very well and wackily by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, had to adopt a black child, who doesn't work. He's just there. Then again, the story is generally so clever that this becomes quite a slap in the direction of over-well-meaning liberals.
Neither does Lisa Kudrow exactly convince as a serious school counsellor; we expect her to be wacky and she insists on being seriously neurotic. Or rather, her writer/director Will Gluck does, which is a pity.
But those are side issues: the main thing is that this isn't a comedy that starts off with cheap jokes and ends with a car chase. It's confident enough in itself to let the laughs come filtering through from the halfway mark on, and it takes such a savage swipe at modern fundamentalist Christianity that one wonders whether the suits who green-lighted it actually understood what they were doing.
Maybe the producer told them it was a high-school comedy about how gossip can spiral out of control and showed them the talented Stone's audition reel instead of the script.
At the very other end of the scale financially, and across the Atlantic geographically, is The Disappearance of Alice Creed.
Starring exactly three people - there aren't even extras - it is not boring for one second. Two men kidnap a woman and take her to a flat they have specially furnished for their needs: a soundproof room with a strong, bolted bed and plenty of handcuffs. They've even thought about her toiletry needs.
But slowly some interesting facts start emerging. As with so many crimes, there's a personal element to this one. One of the kidnappers, Danny (Martin Compston), actually knows the rich daddy's girl, Alice (Gemma Arterton).
Loves her, in fact. Or rather, he says so. And when she discovers it's him, she also says so. But Vic (Eddie Marsan) also has some involvement here, and he senses that the weaker Danny is having all kinds of doubts, or maybe he's just acting that way. And then, hello, the two men also have something a little more than just a mutual criminal mission going on between them.
Arterton plays her part to perfection, using the little scope she has to the utmost: her body and her wiles.
If the first 10 minutes are unnecessarily contrived - why don't Danny and Vic talk to each other, and why would there be lighting and working toilets in a very high, unused block of flats? - then we forgive that because this is a low-budget movie that is as much about crime as it is about sexual politics.
Every film student who is serious about making a break into the industry should watch this flick to see just how three people in a couple of locations can have you squirming in your seat, wondering what the hell is going to happen next.