With all the young talent emerging from the Hollywood canon, at least one of them is smart. Already a major movie star, Emma Stone broke out in the (thinking) industry with Easy A in 2010. I have no probs with the film. It is intelligent. Almost unbelievable, but intelligent. Showing off brilliant comedic timing and witty lines, the meme-rific film almost swallowed whole its juicy concept: teenage sexuality in a conservative social arena. Emma plays Olive, the modern day Scarlet Letter heroine. But she’s very intelligent to know that her own intellectually-restrictive town needs some provoking, and she didn’t care much until she herself became the cause celebre of hypocrite Jesus freaks. The Olive character stood up against the grating anger of the town towards floozies (a setting very familiar here in the Philippines: just the other month, a group of teenage girls almost didn’t graduate because of this chaste image) and she did it by being more provocative. She cut her clothes shorter and wore the red A on every single blouse and shirt, with false sex rumors she intentionally spills for boys’ image charity. She did come around as, to quote a character in the film, a “super slut”. I guess the provoking part did emerge, but what about its resolution? Her whole gesture only seemed like a tease. The Christian high school finally had an erection, but neither was the metaphorical penis castrated or ejaculated. With all the men complaining why there were no tits on her live blog, it shows that the high school didn’t learn a thing from Olive when they should: hmm there are plenty but let’s start with this “How hard it is to be an outcast” or “The one thing that trumps religion… capitalism.”, also “Whatever happened to chivalry?” or finally “Ew. People suck.” What they only learned is that she did not sleep with all those boys, and how much she’s sorry for it. Then again, for the sake of the film’s optimism, what Olive did for the dorky boys she said she slept with is her willingness to avoid bullying (obvious with the gay friend) and to prove that the world has (in some ways) moved on: the nerds are sexier now! The girls can be free with their sexuality! The internet is magnificent!
The following year, she starred in the screen adaptation of The Help. When she played Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, Emma Stone went from Lolita Haze to Atticus Finch. Now she’s a Southern 60s writer in a racist community. But like Olive, she’s ready to break norms. Following the dismissal of her maid Constantine (played by Cicely Tyson) and her friend Hilly’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) continuing bitchery towards the colored help, she started to write a book for black maids who serve the white families of Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter says it would be different because she will write the situation in the perspective of the help. She interviews two maids (played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in career-best performances) which eventually boosted to more than 20 when the racism in the community increases even more. As expected, Jackson read the book (the sequence showing various women reacting to familiar parts of the book is almost like a shot-for-shot remake of the men reacting to Olive’s blog in Easy A) and warmed-up to the help, honoring them with fried chicken. The colored situation has been told before in the screen, but not with this much gloss and entertainment. The Help is a sugar-coated look at the 60s’ racist issues, but I can’t doubt the half-sincere intentions of the filmmakers. Not with beautiful scenes of two abused maids laughing at the idiocy of the whites, a funny scene with toilets and the role of Jessica Chastain as a white-trash blonde who’s socially colorblind.
Emma Stone’s performance in The Help wasn’t as strong as her portrayal of Olive Penderghast, but it may prove that Stone is intent with playing roles that challenge their surroundings. You wouldn’t know if these are just her own Hollywood gimmicks for relevance, swag or legitimacy but I smiled at Olive and Skeeter not because they were ideal princesses. They surprised me with their willingness to escape the norms, exercise democracy, get dirt in their skirts and lose some on their way. The fate of Skeeter was to be a successful writer in New York, save Jackson from the height of racism and lose the man she didn’t even want. Her individualism is admirable. These roles are real, and with what they do, their intelligence lets them win over the oppression and the stupidity of their communities. And as with Emma Stone, while she enjoys more of the Hollywood glamour, I hope she would also learn from these characters and find her way towards the advocacy for a better, democratic society. Perhaps with less gloss? - Gio Potes, April 2012