Chalk another one up for literary staple turned teen movie. With an excellent lead, a strong supporting cast, some solid, non-dated humor, and several nods to the classics of the genre, Easy A is a worthy addition to both unconventional adaptations and to teen movies.
Loosely based, but less loosely than a lot of things these days, on The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Easy A is about the travails of an “anonymous” high schooler, Olive (Emma Stone, outstanding) who, after an overheard embellishment regarding the events of her weekend, is suddenly the star attraction of her school’s gossip mill. Olive tells Rhiannon (Aly Michalka, loopy), her best friend, that she slept with a college boy, when in fact there is no boy at all. She is overheard by Marianne (Amanda Bynes, channeling Mandy Moore in Saved), who proceeds to spread the story all over the school and to persecute Olive (along with her team of evangelists) in the name of saving her soul. Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, which they’re studying in English class, Olive decides to embrace her new-found notoriety, and she even enjoys it for a little while. But when a gay student convinces her to “help him fit in” by staging a sexual encounter at a party, things start to get out of hand. Olive becomes the savior of put-upon boys, pretending to sleep with them in order to pump up their reputations in exchange for gift certificates, at the sake of her own, already tarnished, standing. Things come to a head when she is blamed for another student’s (Marianne’s boyfriend, played by Cam Gigandet) chlamydia. The persecution goes into overdrive, and Olive decides she has had enough, so she finally puts herself first in order to rectify the situation.
I’ll put her first, too: Emma Stone. Tremendous. She carries this movie easily, with her snarky delivery and easy manner. There have been comparisons, I think, to Juno, but this is a superior performance, not the least of which because the script and dialogue pulls off depicting teenagers without resorting to fabricated slang. Supporting cast: Not relied upon heavily, but very strong indeed. Michalka and Bynes are very broadly drawn, but they work well within the framework of the story. Olive’s zany but caring parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) are mostly played for laughs, but with these fantastic actors behind the laughs, you better believe they’re good. I want them for my parents. Thomas Hayden Church as Olive’s favorite teacher, and Lisa Kudrow as his guidance counselor wife are both underused, I think, but again, as excellent actors, they do their jobs well. Finally, there’s Penn Badgely as a potential (real) love interest, charming but unremarkable, and Malcolm McDowell as the principal gets one scene in which to do what he does best, which is be crazy/creepy.
The humor, as stated, really worked. It tread the fine line between embracing and acknowledging teenager-dom and poking fun at it. Handling topics like the double standards of gender roles and sexuality, student/teacher relationships and religion is nothing new in movies, but for the most part, Easy A treats them with just enough humor to keep the mood light, but with enough sarcasm and/or gravity to remind us that they are (or can be) issues that society faces.
Last, but not least, I loved that the movie’s creators, knowing full well they would be compared to everything that came before, chose to go their audience one further, and incorporated the canon of teen movies into the storyline. There are visual and musical cues to a handful of iconic John Hughes moments, as well as various references to the stereotypical ways in which teen movies generally resolve their problems. Olive declares that since it’s her story, she wants her random, unrelated musical number a la Ferris Bueller; wants Lloyd Dobler standing outside her window with a boom box; wants to go riding off on the back of Patrick Dempsey’s lawnmower like in Can’t Buy Me Love. And of course she does, because, didn’t we all? I will say that these references seemed, in large part, to go over the heads of the teenagers in the audience at the showing I attended, but that’s their loss. Get out there and see The Breakfast Club, young ones!
All in all, I would highly recommend this one for all of the reasons mentioned. Truly enjoyable, particularly if you are a fan of smart, fast, clever dialogue, Stanley Tucci (love. him.) and John Hughes. He’d be proud.