Yes, I loved “Black Swan” and there are a lot of other beautiful, less accessible, possibly even foreign films I’ve loved this year (although I have to admit that I have been largely forgoing foreign films in my reading year because…duh, more reading [I refuse to submit to dub]). But I just saw “Easy A”–a very loose remake of The Scarlet Letter (which is on my reading list, so watching the movie totally counts right?) set in a California high school and I have to say. It was pretty awesome. I mean it blew “Ten Things I Hate About You” out of the water. Joke.
But okay, it’s true: I have always had a thing for stupid high school movies. “Easy A” knows this. Like Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” loves “Les Enfants Terribles,” and 1968 Paris, “Easy A” loves John Hughes and 1986 suburban Chicago. “Easy A” is smart enough to know that John Hughes was a product of his time and loves without trying to remake or resemble except in very obvious, lovely, winkable ways. But the real reason I love “Easy A” is because it’s about a high school slut.
Okay, not a real high school slut–and this is the one place the film falters for me–but a rumored slut, who adds to the rumors by claiming to do school outcasts sexual favors in exchange for chain store gift cards.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the high school slut lately. I’m writing a novel that is partially about her. It’s not really about high school sluttiness per se because who needs that? That way lies the horrible, boring way of salvation and regret and the kind of forced morality I have no use for or interest in. But I’ve been revisiting my own high school sluttiness (which I think of fondly and without any judgment) and, well, kind of entrenching myself in those moments. The rumors, the excitement and newness of everything. The realization that this is what you want, no matter what people (i.e. your equally hormonal peers) might say or think about you. High school is a terrible time to realize that you really, really like something that’s not in the standaridzed rulebook, whether that’s sex or poetry or Dungeons and Dragons. High school is unforgiving of this kind of true love, of curiosity, of fascination. Perhaps especially in the ’90s, those snide years that eventually broke into a full-on cultural worship of irony, it wasn’t cool to be interested in things (though I suspect this is a facet of the American teenager throughout its history). And sex, well, the 90’s was a dark time for sex. This was after AIDS broke on the coasts and had trickled its way into sex education in the Midwest (although, in hindsight, we were lucky to have sex ed at all). Sex, we teenagers were taught, could be deadly. Which, come on: fuel, meet fire.
One of the things I feel very lucky about was that my high school, for whatever reason (maybe it was the college town with a strong ex-hippie vibe) seemed less judgy about sex than, say, the contemporary high school of “Easy A” or the school environments of many of my far-flung adult friends. That is to say: I mostly and largely felt like I wasn’t being judged. Oh sure, there were swaths of girls at my high school who claimed to despise me for this reason or that, but they left me alone completely. And because I’m kind of an idiot when it comes to talk, or maybe because my social status wasn’t really worthy of it, save for a few, dumb and dismissable incidents, I never really felt like a girl branded. Part of it was this: I owned it. This is the celebration of “Easy A,” because for all its disguised moralizing, it still, somehow, revels in the glory of the high school slut. I mean, come on: “If there’s one thing worse than chlamydia, it’s Florida.” Or when the kind and beautiful mother of the supposed high school slut (played by the always magnificent Patricia Clarckson) is revealed to have been an actual slut, I cheered. Maybe that’s more of a factor of being as near to age, now, to Patricia Clarkson as to the heroine, Emma Stone. There is enough winking and clever writing in the movie to make me feel comfortable with the fact that its “slut” is a slut in reputation only, which is, let’s face it, kind of cowardly.
Mostly, though, it makes me appreciate that time when desire was desire, not for careers, or accomplishments or a house or SUV or whatever it is we’re supposed to desire these days, but for a person (or several): simple and fickle. And that person–for a year or a week or, sometimes yes, a day, one single beautiful house party–could fill up everything in the world. How easy that was. How easy we were, to pursue what we desired and get it. And then to be disappointed and so try again. Maybe that was the very beginning of desire itself. Or maybe I’ve just had too much wine.