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Art of the Steal

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Emma Stone in Easy A.  

Obviously, Abby and Megan and their mother, Angela, are not exactly what they say they are, but what—and who—are they? When the trio—using Google Maps and a GPS—head off to rural Michigan in search of answers, Catfish develops a Blair Witch Project–like vibe. Maybe Facebook will claim three more victims! And here I must stop … except to say that the last two words of the end titles (they are “including Angela,” but you won’t know what they mean without the context) had me sobbing with joy. Although Catfish is opportunistic, even borderline exploitive, it gets at—by indirection, through the back door—the magic-carpet aspect of this scary new medium. Real people are so complicated and irreducible, you know?

If they’re real, that is. In the early scenes, Nev’s excitement over Megan seems naïve. He’s a good-looking guy—his nickname could be “Mr. Adorable”—and it’s hard to believe he’s spending months obsessed with someone thousands of miles away … unless, of course, he’s acting obsessed because it makes for a good movie. And that’s where I must throw up my hands, because I no longer fully trust my ability to tell real scenes from faked ones, especially in first-person narrative documentaries. Parts of Tarnation turned out to have been staged. Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop was likely a prank—albeit one with its own satiric truth. I’m Still Here: Well, who can tell what’s sincere in that Cloud Cuckoo Land? We’ve always had to watch documentaries with a skeptical eye, with an awareness that reality—even in supposedly fly-on-wall depictions—can be so easily manipulated. But these days, it’s more insidious. All documentary filmmakers must be viewed as potential scam artists. Sorry, Fred Wiseman: We card everyone.

Much of the rambunctious teen comedy Easy A is delightful, much of it irritating. Your ratio will vary depending on your tolerance for camp—for the Glee-ification of teen (and tween) culture and its incessantly arch repartee. The movie turns on a lie: To seem less lame, loveless Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) tells her best friend that she lost her V-card (virginity), and she’s overheard by the school’s Super Christian bovine blonde (Amanda Bynes). Deciding she’d rather be viewed as a slut than a pathetic liar, Olive sews an A (as in The Scarlet Letter) on her blouse and, out of the goodness of her heart, takes responsibility for other peoples’ sins, too. (It’s a liberal martyr’s Super Christianity.) The screenplay, by Bert V. Royal, is full of cheap shots at the squares, but if you don’t like one joke, there’s already another on the way. Lisa Kudrow does a dazzling turn as a guidance counselor who’s a flickering mixture of sympathy and narcissism. But the movie belongs to Stone, that gorgeous, husky-voiced redhead. When most actors deliver nonstop patter, their mouths get ahead of their minds, but Stone’s brain works so fast that her mouth can barely keep up. She has a near-telepathic link with the audience: She makes our brains run faster, too.

The Town
Warner Bros. Pictures. R.

Catfish
Universal Pictures. PG-13.

Easy A
Screen Gems. PG-13.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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