It happens by accident, but the misinformation that the virginal Olive (Emma Stone) spent a naughty weekend with an older man makes her a lot more popular at her high school. And because Olive is bright -- too clever by half, really -- she decides to maximize her newfound slutty reputation, by "renting" herself out to fellow social outcasts who could use a boost of sexy. For instance, the jocks stop bullying the gay guy when he and Olive fake a hook-up at a party. But, Olive dear, there are no easy solutions to high school misery (besides graduating), and rapidly, her great idea turns into a big mess.
But it's a big comic mess! Will Gluck's comedy is a notch or two above rote teen flicks: It riffs on The Scarlet Letter ("the original movie, not the Demi Moore one," explains Olive); and has plenty of good takeaway lines, even if nobody in real life -- especially some mixed-up teen -- would ever say such snappy things. (Its antecedents are Juno, Saved and Clueless.) Stone is a fresh find, with just a dash of quirky, and Gluck ropes in an indie movie's worth of adult actors to provide great support (Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Malcolm McDowell, Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Haden Church).
Sure, it's a bit of fantasia -- a high school full of beautiful people; delightful cool parents; and a cute guy who is as weirdly chaste as Olive, standing by to whisk her away into the sunset. But it has to be: The reality of a bad rep is no laughing matter. (Al Hoff) [2.5 out of 4 stars]
Supposedly, the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston is a hotbed of armed bank robbers. No surprise, then, that this second feature from actor-turned-director Ben Affleck dumps us right in the middle of a job. The gang, headed by Doug McCray (Affleck), bumbles, taking the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage. After her release, she's a person of interest -- for the FBI agent (Jon Hamm) assigned the case and for McCray, who needs to assess how dangerous a witness she is. McCray falls for her, and this sits uneasily with his gang pal James (Jeremy Renner). And as surely as Boston has beans, longtime "Town" relationships begin to unravel.
Like Affleck's earlier feature, Gone Baby Gone, Town is fast-paced, gritty and packed with Boston color. Its plot doesn't break any new ground -- with its tangle of class, aspiration and self-defeating blood allegiances among Boston's Irish-Americans, viewers may recall The Departed.
But Affleck is always a better actor when he can play closer to home, and The Town is also another notch in Renner's (The Hurt Locker) belt: His dead-eye portrayal of the seething, hurt and confused James is great. Likewise, Chris Cooper has one scene as McCray's hard-boiled father, but he owns it. For thrills, there are a couple of well-staged car chases in the heart of Boston, in which a lot of Beantown's fabled bad traffic was cleared so that there could even be a high-speed chase.
Too bad that the film lost me in its final third, with an improbable heist that seemed more designed to show off what Affleck could swing as a well-connected director rather than being organic to the story, and a conclusion that was a trifle pat. (AH) [2.5 out of 4 stars]