Running time : 90 min Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material.
Directed by: Will Gluck. Written by: Bert J. Royal.
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgely, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Lisa Kudrow, Thomas Hayden Church, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Malcolm McDowell
No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.– Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlett Letter
It isn’t often that you find a teen comedy as funny and genuinely smart as Easy A. It’s even more rare to find one that could take a line as ponderous as the one above—pulled directly from Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter—and build a successful film around it. And yet, that’s exactly what Easy A does, with no small amount of help from the wonderfully expressive and charming Emma Stone, who’s poised to come into her own as a headlining actress after her pleasing turn here as the brainy faux tart, Olive Penderghast.
Set against the backdrop of Southern California’s Ojai Valley, Easy A follows Olive’s advance from high-school nobody to social centerpiece after an off-the-cuff sleazy rumor catapults her into notoriety. When her best friend Rhiannon interrogates Olive about her weekend whereabouts, and the snarky teen spins her a yarn that suggests she lost her virtue, it blossoms into a school-wide ‘fact’. In an attempt to use her new fallen-girl status to help out, Olive agrees to assist her bullied bud Brandon in faking his heterosexuality so that he can finish out high school in peace. After their amusingly fabricated ‘tryst’ at a big party, Olive finds the forlorn and outcast of the school’s male population lining up to purchase some fake street cred as lotharios. The whole enterprise takes another turn when Olive, inspired by her class reading assignment of The Scarlett Letter, embroideries her own fiery A on her clothing to cement her status as the school’s mega-slut.
In the early going the film sails smoothly along because screenwriter Bert I. Royal has written Olive, Brandon, and Olive’s liberally relaxed parents as intelligent characters who are capable of thinking above and beyond the frantic immediacy of rumors and false impressions. Emma Stone sells us on the fact that Olive is a well meaning girl who has taken inventory of her situation and decided, for the time being, that playing her community’s own alarmist tendencies to the gain of herself and her friends isn’t a bad thing. The subtext of the film that exists within the subtle interweaving of Hawthorne’s novel and Olive’s own constructed dilemma doesn’t just add nuance, but also a kind of inspired maturity that doesn’t often accompany even the most intuitive of teen farces.
Hester Prynne, the adulteress of Hawthorne’s novel wears her shame not just with the titular A, but also in the raising of her daughter, the secret love child of one of her communities bright-and-shining. In the novel, Hester finds a freedom and source of healing in wearing the A, and for her part redemption springs from her ability to weather the expectations of others and show them more than they expected. Olive, who’s about to learn some important truths from her imagined career as a lascivious woman, also finds the A as a way to social freedom, mostly because she’s rarely been noticed before. What she also finds is that regardless of the nature of a carefully constructed lie, it carries its own weight and consequence, and if she and her friends can’t find solace in their own natures as is, will an extravagant mirage really save them from that?
If I’m making it sound academic, then let me assure you it isn’t. Easy A is both surprisingly literate and tenacious, like it’s protagonists, but it’s anything but a stuffy exercise in ‘being yourself.’ In truth, it’s almost as bouyant and witty as benchmarks like Clueless and Heathers, which it melds together into a brand new thing. There’s plenty of laughs, and plenty of welcome heart, although the second half suffers under the weight of too many characters, including Thomas Hayden Church as her English teacher, Amanda Bynes as a religious gossip who spreads the rumor, and Lisa Kudrow as a guidance counselor married to Church. There’s not quite enough time to bring all of it together, but Gluck does so because it’s important that we feel the full social weight of what Olive has undertaken, and just how far reaching it’s effect has been. To do that well, we need these others, but when hanging out with Olive, and watching her poignantly weather her self-made storn, is this much fun we dread turning away.
And if Easy A doesn’t quite take it’s barn-burner of a premise to the satirical heights that Heather climbed, it avoids being a disappointment because of well it works as a vehicle for Stone. We don’t get many funny, self-possessed and witty teens in the movies, and usually when they do they feel like rejects from the smarm farm, like Juno, and not like people we might actually know. With Easy A, Emma Stone proves to us she has a bright future ahead, and if Easy A is her Pretty Woman, than she’s already got a leg up on Julia Roberts.