I had high hopes of this being a clever teen comedy in the 10 Things I Hate About You Vein. It starred Emma Stone, who seems to be able to brighten up the lamest of films. It was a fresh take on a dusty classic.
And there are things I found in the film to be praiseworthy. It’s likable cast, for instance. Everyone does well, even though some character roles are terribly thankless(more on that later). There are some solid laughs, and the interaction between Olive (Stone) and her carefree liberal parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) have their moments. I liked the framing structure (Olive is broadcasting her story to the web). I liked how they dealt with the potential fallout of the situation in Olive’s life. Olive is a very likable character. Smart, sarcastic, yet compassionate and supportive of her friends (it is this aspect of the character that creates the situation of the movie).
What is that situation? Basically, Olive makes up a white lie to satisfy her friend Rhi (Aly Milchaka). She find’s Rhi’s family uncomfortable and does not want to go camping with them, and says she has a date with a college boy. Rhi presses for details, convinced Olive has lost her virginity. So, rather than come clean, she tells Rhi what she wants to hear in the girls bathroom. Which is overheard by Exaggerated Southern Christian Stereot-uh- Marianne (Amanda Bynes). This spreads across the school like wildfire. A friend (Dan Byrd) is facing bullying at school. He’s gay and people suspect it…weary of the abuse he begs Olive to pretend they had sex together. So at a party, they stage an elaborate sequence to convince everyone that the pair hooked up.
From there it snowballs, other guys start trying to get her okay to say they have done various sexual acts with her. It snowballs until she is taking credit for things to protect a teacher and losing her friends.
And it is this area where the film just gets messy… for instance, Olive and Rhi have a falling out- resulting in Rhi disappearing for much of the film. And Marianne…dear God, Marianne. First, I have a hard time buying that someone that conservative and pious would wear outfits that are all that tight. I would expect the character to be more modest. Plus, she has this thick southern accent that nobody else seems to share. It’s as if they think becoming a Christian results in developing a Texas Accent. The character is cut from the cloth of a long line of Conservative Evangelical villains, and is so deathly cliched it is insulting-no matter what you believe.
On the positive side, there is no absurd comeuppance sequence revealing Marianne to be some secret slut in an attempt by the movie to shame her. So, I guess we should consider ourselves lucky.
The end is a terrific mess. I get why they ended it the way they did. Earlier in the film, Olive laments that her life is not more like an 80’s teen romance, set to a montage of John Cusack, Patrick Dempsy and John Hughes flicks. And the film’s final moments touch on that, including the montage of characters having a moment of realization. But much is unresolved in this ending. And not in a what happens next makes you want more, way. But rather that you are watching the filmmakers cheat. What exactly is Marianne’s revelation? We don’t know. But she seems sad. Same with Rhi…and is their friendship salvaged? Who knows…apparently Olive patching things up with her best friend did not strike the film makers as important. It feels as if they had no idea how to resolve all their dangling threads…so they just show us the characters looking pensive and assume that allows them to end the movie. But it just feels like a massive cheat. So, the film is just a mess of good and bad… it’s a slapdash of humorous scenes and thoughtful moments adrift in a storm of bad storytelling.