Easy A (2010)

How does one go about describing a film like Easy A? It’s a sharp, funny movie about a whole host of subjects — lying, popularity, rumors, virginity — and actually has something to say about them, unlike a large number of other teen movies. In fact, because it has so many targets in its sights, it’s difficult to say what it wants to declare most, except that all of these issues face both teens and adults, and that there’s a clever way to make fun of them without being mean about doing so.

The film stars Emma Stone, in one of her best roles, as Olive Penderghast, a straight-A student who has never done a single bad thing in her life. As she chats with her parents, who jokingly ground her, she doesn’t know how to be grounded any more than they know how to inflict that punishment on her. It’s surprising, then, that she tells her friend a lie about how she spent her weekend, attempting to cover up that she did nothing but lie around the house for two and a half days. She says she spent it with a college boy — nobody from school could question this — and before the count of three, the whole student body knows.

It’s at this point that most people go into damage control. A rumor, which isn’t true, has gotten out of hand, so a good deal of people would squash it here and there. Olive, getting attention from strangers for the first time in her life, decides to embrace the labels now placed on her. You know how some celebrities are worth following because their lives are such train wrecks that you feel compelled? That’s kind of how Olive’s life heads for much of Easy A. Yes, it’s satire, and yes, it’s funny.

In the film are a bunch of colorful characters. An overly religious girl, Marianne (Amanda Bynes) becomes one of Olive’s enemies. Both of Olive’s parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) deserve to be placed among the best movie parents. A teacher (Thomas Haden Church) is hilarious, a guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) is also very funny, and they are a secret couple meaning the actors get two or three scenes together. The school’s principal is Malcolm McDowell, and while he’s not in the film much, it’s Malcolm McDowell and seeing him is always fun.

While these are all interesting and usually entertaining characters, none of them are deep. Only Olive has any development or depth, while everyone else is a stereotype or cliché. I have a feeling much of this was intentional — the film is told from Olive’s perspective, and part of the satire is based around the concept of “celebrity” — but it doesn’t lead to the best experience.

Still, watching Emma Stone chew through all of these other actors, often having very sharp and interesting dialogue exchanges, is a blast, and it’s also quite funny. Well-read teenagers are something of a rarity in the movies, but Easy A has at least one of them in Olive Penderghast. She also provides narration — explained by the film as a “webcast” — which has the same sense of humor as the rest of the film. I don’t always enjoy voice-over narration, but it works effectively here.

If you’ve seen a bunch of ’80s teen comedies, you’ve seen a lot of Easy A already. The film makes no bones about taking inspiration from the John Hughes movies of yore, as well as having its main story being partially inspired by The Scarlet Letter — which is also the book being studied in English class in the film, a fact that Olive notices. The words of Mark Twain also make an appearance, and if this paragraph hasn’t convinced you to see Easy A, I’m not sure if anything will.

Where the film goes wrong is in its attempt at anything other than the acceptance or defiance of the rumor mill and “celebrity” status. The relationships between Olive and, well, everyone are all painfully underdeveloped, leading to more than one feeling as if the characters have no reason to feel the way they do about one another. There’s a hammered in romance at the end which the film will defend because the guy showed up a few times earlier but I will criticize because having three-line conversations (filled with jokes and nothing else) does not lead up to falling in love.

It’s true that Emma Stone shines in the lead role. She has the amount of confidence, snark, charm, and grasp of sarcasm to make this character work. Other actors could have made Olive come across as silly, but Stone delivers in spades. All of the supporting actors are good, too, but because of their clichéd and underwritten characters, they aren’t able to elevate the material like Stone does. She makes the character her own; they play a character we’ve seen before.

Easy A is an intelligent, sharp, funny comedy about a whole host of subjects that can always use a little more exploring. It’s superior to many teen comedies in that it’s consistently humorous, insightful, and respects its subject matter and audience but not dumbing itself down to either. While it doesn’t have the strongest supporting characters — they’re all colorful stereotypes — its lead is great and wonderfully performed by Emma Stone. This is a very enjoyable movie and I recommend giving it a watch.

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