The high school comedy is not an easy subject to tackle because it’s been tackled almost as much as Emma Stone’s character in Easy A would have you believe she has. It is one of the many sluts of the film genre world – it’s incredibly attractive because it’s easy to get into bed with, but it’s not like you’re going to impress anyone by going after it. Unless you nail it.
Will Gluck, a man without an average high school experience teamed with Stone, an actress who didn’t go to high school, to try to do just that.
Gluck was decent enough to spend more than a few minutes on the phone with me while surrounded by the insanity of the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about the challenges of being fresh with high school, creating a strong female character, and the joy of sex comedy without sex.
What’s the feeling like having Easy A hit Toronto?
Well, people are really excited about this which is a new feeling for me. It’s nice.
Are you saying the buzz going into Fired Up! was negative or was it just not positive?
No, it was very positive, it’s just that the reviews weren’t that great, and people judged it before they even saw it as opposed to this one where everyone’s going bananas for this movie. So I tend to throw out the highs and lows, throw out the Russian judge. I don’t believe the highs, and I don’t believe the lows.
That’s probably a healthy way to look at it.
What draws you to the world of high schoolers?
It’s very strange because I had several TV shows on the air – I started in TV – and they were not about high school at all. I don’t know the answer. I didn’t think after Fired Up! that I would ever do another high school movie again until I got my hands on the script and thought I could do something special with it.
What you’ve done is to take something that’s well worn and tell it in a new way. What does that challenge look like to you?
I think of that old adage “There’s only six stories to tell,” so as long as the people telling the story acknowledge that the story has been told before, I think people are much more accepting of it. So with this one, I really hit it on the head that the characters know they’re going through a story, know that this idea has been in literature and movies before, and are embracing it. I think it lets the audience off the hook. The characters know this isn’t brand new material here. Let’s just see how they do it.
There is a ton of referencing, but that seems apparent through Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson’s parental characters, too. An older generation that’s gone through the same things.
I think not only have they gone through similar situations, they’ve also seen those movies when they were younger too. The situations that teens go through in high school, their parents went through too. I think the only difference now is social media has made everything much more immediate. In the old days, when a rumor started or a story happened it took a few days or a week to get around. Now it’s literally within seconds. It makes high school even more hyper real.
Do you see a necessity in referencing other movies because of the age we live in?
Here’s my thing on this. Everyone, me and you talking, wherever we go – we make references. Lines from movies, lines from TV, lines from songs. That’s the way we all live our lives. That’s not even now; it’s 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s. The thing is, for some reason in movies and television shows, the characters seem to live in a world where no other pop culture exists. That they’re the only people going through these things. So I wanted to make a movie that takes place in reality. We always talk in movie references, so why can’t characters in movies talk in movie references?
You’ve got a point there. After watching the movie, I thought about writing about films that live in a film-less universe.
Every romantic comedy. At least most romantic comedies. The characters, there’s no movies, there’s no pop culture. You walk down the street and there are no advertisements for media, and the characters think they are the first to go through this boy meets girl scenario.
The movie I’m doing right now – Friends With Benefits – is an updated Hepburn/Tracy movie where the characters are very aware that they’re going through this thing that everyone in the world has gone through before, and they reference movies constantly as well.
Is there a Hepburn/Tracy feel to Kunis/Timberlake?
I certainly hope so. I wrote the dialog – I love hearing dialog that’s emotionally connective but hyper real in that I would love people to speak this way. Kind of funny and quick and smart. Easy A‘s the same way. Everyone speaks in the way that I wish I spoke, the way I wish I came across. They make their mistakes, they act very human but they speak hyper human. That’s what Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy do, and that’s completely what I’m going for with Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, and Woody Harrelson.
So like State of the Union or Sea of Grass?
[Laughs] It’s like It Happened One Night.
It’s interesting that you’d talk about imbuing our modern age into a film while touching back to a classic feel.
I don’t want to be the type of moviemaker that puts in references that are old to sound cool and hip. I don’t want to alienate anyone. My scope of references is so tiny. I’ve seen so few movies and TV shows because of my upbringing that I’m the one always going, “I don’t get it. What are they talking about? I don’t know what that means!”
I never want to do a reference that’s not explained in the moment. You’ll notice in Easy A, every kind of reference they do stands on its own. You don’t have to know the reference. Especially the 80s movies. I show clips of the 80s movies, so it’s more of an inclusive reference moment.
Same thing with the movie I’m making now. They watch parts of the movies and talk about them, and at the end everyone’s on the same page. I never want to just do an esoteric reference to show how cool I am. “Look! I referenced It Happened One Night!” – unless I show you what It Happened One Night is.
Sort of like filmic education during a film.
I think “filmic” even sounds too high brow. I just mean pop culture. It’s like talking about baseball players. I never want to be like, “You don’t know who Reggie Jackson is?!” What a dick. It’s more like, “Oh, Reggie Jackson was this guy in the 80s.” So you explain it and include everybody.
That’s refreshingly unpretentious of you.
I desperately [Laughs] try to go through every frame of a movie to be unpretentious.
Find out more about sexless sex in Easy A and possible religious backlash on the next page: