Review: Easy A (2010)

Easy A (2010)

Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, and Amanda Bynes

Directed By: Will Gluck

Written By: Bert V. Royal

The high school coming of age movie is a sub-genre  (be it of comedy, drama or any sort of mixture of the two) that will never go away. There’s an inherent timeless quality of the simple theme: the transition between childhood and adulthood sucks. It’s something that will always be relevant to all of us. We either are currently going through it or at least remember what it was like to be that age. I even made a Top Ten list about movies like this not too long ago (which you can read here). Being that teens are the main characters, the two usual subject matters are love and sex. Easy A is no different in that regard nor is it really anything new. So, is it worth seeing still? Well, let’s see.

Easy A is the story of Olive (Stone), an average high school girl in a rather small town. She doesn’t seem to be extremely popular, but is definitely far from an outcast. She’s from a very liberal family and has a rather bitchy best friend named Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). She’s just a girl moving along in the world, mostly minding her own business. That all changes when she lies to Rhiannon that she has a date with a community college guy (in order to get out of going camping with Rhi and her New Age parents). Unfortunately for Olive, her statements the following Monday is construed to her having lost her virginity with said made-up boy, which she sarcastically confirms. To make matters worse, this exchange is overheard by the school’s head Jesus Freak Marianne (Bynes) and the gossip mill is off from there.

Immediately the students look at Olive different. Most of the girls thing she’s a tramp while the guys are suddenly very interested in her. Shocking, I know. After an hilarious verbal run-in with Marianne, Olive is assigned detention and is forced to do janitorial duties after school with Brandon, the local homosexual guy who fights rather than admit to his sexuality. Olive confides in Brandon that her virginity is very much intact, but Brandon has an idea: since Olive made up having sex with an unknown guy, maybe she could pretend to have sex with him in order to get people off his back about his sexuality. She eventually agrees and this sets off a series of made-up encounters which quickly gets out of control and has consequences that were unseen by her (another shocker, right?). Eventually, Olive has to set the record straight, repair her reputation, oh and also get the boy who correctly believes that she isn’t actually a whore (Badgley’s Todd). Is she able to do it?

One thing that makes Easy A entertaining is that it does not hide from it’s influences. It’s based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” and that’s what is being read in Olive’s English class (sort of like how William Shakespeare is so pronounced in Ten Things I Hate About You which is based on “The Taming of the Shrew”). Nor does it try to distance itself from the teen comedies of the 1980s. There’s a montage that features the likes of Loverboy and Say Anything. There’s a moment in which Olive states that she wanted her own random music number (in fact, she has two) which is seen in a movie like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Of course, the ending is a mash-up of several endings of teen comedies from the past (which you can partially see in the picture below). Unlike other movies trying to do this, Easy A successfully winks and nods about this rather than just reminding us of better movies we’ve seen in the past.

Again, this is based on “The Scarlet Letter” and Olive runs with the theme at one point going so far as sewing an red letter “A” on her “updated” wardrobe. Olive, after an initial surge in popularity, is shunned by her peers for being an harlot (as Marianne might put it). It’s an amusing look at social dynamics, one that is often discussed. Olive encounters the disdain and ire of those around her for allegedly having sex (many times). While she stains her reputation over and over again, the guys she supposedly hooked up with are treated as kings. It’s the classic double standard situation when it comes to sex. Another interesting aspect is how fast gossip travels and how the movie depicts it. As soon as something is found out and a third-party simply whispers to another, it spreads like wildfire. We see people texting one another and before long Olive is getting stared at.

While the themes aren’t anything we haven’t encountered before, the film contains a large amount of memorable characters. Olive’s family (all of whom have food inspired names) are simply hysterical. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson steal nearly ever scene they’re in as the parents with their completely open to everything attitudes. Their chemistry with each other (Tucci and Clarkson are longtime friends) and with Stone is a joy to watch. Bynes is very fun as an overbearing religious zealot. Her campaign against Olive is pretty harsh. We just have to try to ignore whatever it is that Bynes’ has done to her face. It was actually quite distracting to me. Thomas Hayden Church is great as the coolest teacher ever who makes fun of himself and of social cliches (such as rapping at one point before mocking the entire situation). Badgley is suitably nice and good looking for his rather small role as the eventually love interest. I found myself annoyed with Rhiannon quite often during the course of the movie (no real fault of Michalka). There’s also great cameos by Malcolm McDowell and Fred Armisen that are really funny.

All of that said, this is really a star vehicle for Emma Stone and she pulls it off wonderfully. Stone pulled out of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch in order to be in this movie and, while Snyder’s next movie hasn’t been released yet, it wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say it was the right decision. Stone’s Olive comes off as extremely intelligent and witty. She’s the kind of girl who’s wise beyond her experiences and years. Olive is also someone you root for and someone you’d want to hang out with. Her deceptions aren’t selfishly motivated. She lies to help others, at the detriment to herself more often than not. Stone shines in every scene and she never misses a beat. It’s her that Easy A rests its (admittedly light) weight on and she passed the test with flying colors. We should be expecting big things from this young lady in the coming years.

Bottomline: Easy A is quite a funny film. It’s plot and themes aren’t anything new, but it has some great characters led by the charming Stone. It’s not as great as I’ve heard it described by some, but it’s still a fun hour and half. Come for a standard teen comedy, stay for the star making comedic performance by Emma Stone.

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