Easy A is a surprisingly witty film that manages to exceed the expectations of its narrow genre—the teenage comedy. This is not just another hackneyed look at high school culture written by humorless adults who are still subconsciously haunted by their unpopular teenage years. Director Will Gluck seems to accept that while Easy A won’t be groundbreaking, it can play to its writing and acting strengths, specifically the impressive talent of Superbad’s Emma Stone, who effortlessly carries the film.
Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a precocious (yes, they always have to be precocious so they can use big words like “inexactitude” and thereby teach real teenagers that smart is cool), straight-A student whose inherent dorkiness makes her invisible to her peers and subtly jealous of her popular, well endowed best friend, Rhiannon (Hellcats’ Aly Michalka). Though she knows how to handle herself in a crowd, Olive is basically an introvert—the kind of girl who will lie about a Saturday night date with a college boy in order to get out of going camping with her sometimes overbearing best friend.
Once Monday rolls around and the latter gets curious about her straight-laced friend’s fictitious date, things get interesting. In a whimsical attempt to stop all the speculation and accusations thrown her way, Olive breaks down and admits it: she did it—she lost her “v-card” to the college dude. She then decides to embellish, dishing all the naughty details of her “first time,” not realizing that her righteous, God-fearing classmate Marianne (overplayed by Amanda Bynes) is eavesdropping on her confession.
In high school, word travels fast, especially if that word is “sex.” Olive abruptly finds herself in the middle of a school-wide scandal. She discovers that sex with one boy at the age of 17 turns a girl into a “whore,” despised by her gal pals and worshipped by the guys. Either way, the fabricated circumstances surrounding her promiscuity cause Olive to shed her invisible cloak. Suddenly everyone knows who she is and harbors very personal beliefs about her sexuality. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her newfound popularity, Olive might have forgotten she ever lied to her friend at all. As it is, she walks away from this event knowing just how much one can manipulate others’ perceptions.
So when an old friend, Brandon (Cougar Town's charming Dan Byrd) comes to her with a problem—tormenters at school are making his life hell because he’s gay—Olive agrees to help Brandon set the record “straight” and stages a raucous sexual encounter between them at a crowded party behind closed doors. Afterward, as far as everyone knows, Brandon likes girls, and Olive is even more of a sure thing. The rumors encircling her intensify steadily. In response to ridicule that Olive deems unfair, she decides to give the people what they want. She takes a note from that week’s literature assignment, which just happens to be Nathaniel Hawthorne, and pins a red “A” to everything she wears at school. Instead of assuming that her ensemble is just another stellar marketing fad for the clothes company Aeropostale (a more likely conclusion in contemporary American high schools), the kids actually understand and take notice. Of course, so does her well-meaning English teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Hayden Church) who can’t make heads or tales of Olive’s behavior, but does know that she’s the only one in the class who didn’t write her paper based on the Demi Moore movie version of The Scarlet Letter.
At this point Easy A introduces a couple of new subplots a little late (about an hour) into the movie, and proceeds to play catch-up from there. With one or two exceptions, however, the story is surprisingly seamless and the “a-ha” moments are genuine to life—not just flimsy plot devices. The lessons here are not so much about avoiding promiscuity as they are staying true to oneself, realizing that fame becomes degrading as quickly as infamy, and that the people who really care about you aren’t going to change their minds based on what others whisper behind your back. Yes, the morals in Easy A are pretty trite, but the movie is not. Even scenes that would normally be too damned cute to stomach are pulled off here—a rare phenomenon in a teenage high school comedy, and a true testament to the acting and writing of the film.
With the remarkably obnoxious exceptions of Bynes and Michalka, the supporting cast is basically solid, though Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci stand out in their hilarious portrayals of Olive’s understanding and dismissive parents. They are clearly satirizing the cliche of the cool parent by taking it over the top, and every second of their interpretation is exquisite. These two elicit laughs both together and apart, and they have fantastic chemistry with Stone. Most of what makes Easy A so refreshing is that it gives a typical coming-of-age story an offbeat premise and does not entirely focus on finding true love, like so many other comedies about young people. Also, it’s just plain wittier than its sister stories, and it has something they don’t—the effervescent and intrepid Emma Stone.
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Hayden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Aly Michalka
Director: Will Gluck
Runtime: 92 minutes
Distributor: Screen Gems
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