Posted in Film, Writing

How to Write Memorable Comedic Characters

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Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Review — Easy A (2010)

It’s a simple and true fact — Emma Stone is a movie star. Few actresses her age have the same wit, charm, and beauty. There’s something to be said about Stone’s screen presence, which first made itself known in the hilarious comedy Superbad and then again in the rousing horror comedy Zombieland. She has one of those unique faces that is difficult to look away from; a deep, husky voice that commands your attention; and a strength and intelligence that speaks to every character she plays. Before her acclaimed performances in Birdman and La La Land, Stone finally got the chance at a lead role in the amusing and well-written comedy Easy A.

One of the main questions facing teenagers who are looking to expand their social lives is whether to be yourself or to be who everyone else wants you to be. Also, is it better to be a bad person but talked about, or a good person but ignored completely? These issues are all at the heart of this wonderful film, one that bears repeat viewings and has slowly evolved into a modern comedy classic in the seven years since its release.

Stone plays a high school student (in Ojai, California, of all places!) who has never really been on anybody’s radar but becomes the most popular girl in school due to her alleged sexual conduct with various boys on campus. Of course she is still a virgin, and is only faking these episodes for gift certificates and temporary popularity. But as she starts to fall for somebody who’s real, it becomes difficult for her to step back and try to regain her moral authority, as well as a respect from those around her and toward herself.

The movie is very funny, with plenty of terrific scenes and memorable lines, but the success of the film completely lies on the shoulders of Stone. In many other young actress’s hands, the role of Olive might have come off as too selfish. Stone makes the character likable right off the bat and serves so naturally as the centerpiece to a world of kooky characters. She has the perfect blend of naughtiness and girl-next-door, a mix that has to be one of the hardest to pull off, but Stone does it with ease.

While Stone is a revelation, she has an amazing supporting cast to back her up. There’s Amanda Bynes as a goodie-goodie religious nut, Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley as the love interest with a heart of gold, Thomas Haden Church as a teacher, Lisa Kudrow as a guidance counselor, Stanley Tucci as Olive’s father, and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s mother. All of these actors bring specific qualities to their roles that give the movie more life than it would have had without them. The family dynamic in this movie is especially winning, with Stone not only kind of looking like the offspring of Tucci and Clarkson, but Olive’s relationship with her parents being so weird, nurturing, and loving, the kind of friendship we all want to have with our parents.

There’s a lot of homages to other classic teen comedies in Easy A, like Say Anything and particularly the John Hughes movies of the mid-1980’s — Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The final scenes bring these movies to mind, and while Easy A isn’t in the league of these classic films, I would put it just one notch lower, in a category reserved for the best modern teen comedies like Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You. If nothing else, Easy A will be looked at in twenty years time as the film that officially launched the major career of now Academy Award winner Emma Stone!

Watching Like a Writer

One takeaway from Easy A is to put more emphasis in the future on not just writing three-dimensional female characters in my fiction but in making them funny, too! This film is a great tool for learning how to write comedy, of course, but it’s also a great tool for learning how to write great comedy for dynamic, memorable female protagonists.

Exercise!

Think of a humorous story that would be about a female character. What would it be?

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