Riva/Harlequin Presents author Heidi Rice discovers that fantastic teen movies aren't just the domain of the eighties old guard any more with this sharp, sassy and brilliantly conceived High School reinvention of The Scarlet Letter... No, really!
All right, so I'm one of those annoying older peeps who constantly says to her children...'They don't make insert music, film, TV or other cultural item here like they used to'. And given the amount of anodyne pop music, cringe-making reality TVshows and other assorted collagen pumped throw-away celebrity rubbish I have to endure I feel I'm saying this from a position of considerable strength. Except on the rare occasion when my teenagers introduce me to something really good, that I wasn't expecting.
Now teen movies are a particular bug bear of mine, because I grew up during the golden age of teen movies — The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, Stand By Me — and films like Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, Freaky Friday (the remake) and even Mean Girls simply don't do it for me, despite being polished and perky and, in the case of Mean Girls, fairly clever. Of course, this might have something to do with the fact that I'm not a teenager anymore.. But I digress.
Anyway, I wasn't expecting to be all that impressed when my oldest son bought a film called Easy A on DVD with his first ever pay cheque (let's pause for a moment of motherly pride here!). Boy was I wrong.
Now, if you're someone who doesn't appreciate the creative use of bad language you may be a little less impressed with this movie, but I have to say I absolutely adored it. Not just the smart-aleky swearing mind you, but all the snappy, brilliantly witty dialogue, the wry sarcasm, the insights into the angsty self-obsession of teen life today (not unlike the angsty self-obsession of teen life of old really!) and most of all the fabulous central character. A girl called Olive Penderghast (played with remarkable aplomb by Emma Stone). Olive is a dry, funny, sharply intelligent and wonderfully irreverent misfit who provides a series of wry observations about teen life while charting her two-week journey from good girl to school whore. Olive is a swot, who no-one notices until one little white lie - about losing her virginity to a date who never actually existed - is catapulted into the stratosphere thanks to the school's rumour mill, a best friend who most girls could really do without, a Bible-bashing hypocrit and Olive's decision to help out a gay friend who wants to pretend he's straight in a last-ditch attempt to escape the incessant homophobic bullying he endures on a daily basis.
What makes Olive so wonderful is that, despite the fact that she ends up with a reputation Heidi Fleiss would be ashamed of, she is the film's role model. Effectively exposing not just the sexual double standard when it comes to 'putting out' in high school, and the misery of homophobia, but also the minefield that has to be negotiated in a culture where you are never judged for who you really are, but only on how others decide to pigeonhole you.
So what does all this have to do with Nathaniel Hawthorne?
Well, it's fairly simple really, Olive having actually read her English assignment and having applauded Hester Prynne's brave fortitude in the face of dogged and unjust prejudice decides to embrace her new role as the school slut, despite actually still being a virgin. She starts dressing like an extra from Moulin Rouge, licks her spoon lasciviously in the school canteen, takes Home Depot tokens in exchange for pretending to sleep with the losers who want to bolster their reputation by association and sews a scarlet letter on her new range of bustiers. Olive's making a statement, which unfortunately backfires a bit because none of her classmates has actually read the book (cue an hilarious comment from Thomas Hayden Church's English teacher about the number of essays he receives which go into great depth about Demi Moore's bath action!)... Olive is shunned and stigmatised and virtually assaulted simply because she empathised with the school's outcasts.
But the beauty of this film, is that despite all the wearisome crap she has to deal with, Olive fights back - with a little help from her offbeat parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci making the old guard proud), and the hunky Woodchuck Todd (see you knew there was a romance in there somewhere, right!). She doesn't join the in-crowd, she annihilates them, and that final coming out at a basketball game is another of those life-affirming teen movie moments to add to John Cusack with his boombox and Judd Nelson punching the air to the tune of Simple Minds.
This is smart, self-aware, insightful and fabulously forthright comedy-drama - just like a great teen movie should be. Watch and enjoy.
Who says they don't make great teen movies like they used to? Not me anymore.
Heidi's next Harlequin Presents Extra, Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger, got a whopping four and a half stars from Romantic Times and is available now on eHarlequin and on shelves at a Walmart/Waldies/etc near you in April. If you want a free copy and you live in the UK go here. Her first Riva is a linked book to Sexy Stranger and has the fabulous title Cupcakes and Killer Heels. It hits the UK and Ireland in May. Come natter on her website, her blog, Facebook or Twitter as @HeidiRomRice.