Sixteen Candles, Clueless, and Mean Girls came before Easy A with witty dialogue, smart characters, and cynical sarcasm faithful to the high school experience. And where Molly Ringwald, Alicia Silverstone, and Lindsay Lohan punctuated each film with the face of a star in the making, Emma Stone (when the film premiered in 2010) did the same for Easy A. Without her, the film would fall flat. Her impeccable comic timing, unusual good-looks, and the acting chops that would intimidate any wannabe Hollywood starlet set her apart. Plus, she has the un-teachable ability to contort her bambi-eyes and animated lips into an endless number of telling facial expressions which only add to her comic prowess. But what makes her a perfect fit for this film is the way that she makes her character’s intelligence believable. She plays Olive, a teenager in the 21st century who is well read in classic literature, an avid John Hughes fan, and far more self aware than few high schoolers ever are, but the way she makes lines that no sixteen-year-old would actually utter come off as if she came from the womb sputtering one-liners and describing things as “incorrigible” makes the audience laugh with her rather than shake their heads at the absurdity of what they’re watching. Emma Stone is a star, and if the audience didn’t already know that from her past work in Zombieland and Superbad, and her recent-work in The Help, they’ll know soon.
Olive is a wise beyond her years, high school girl who isn’t quite a social outcast but would appreciate a little more recognition from her peers. She spends weekends in her room bonding with her dog while belting out the lyrics to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine” which she both calls the “worst song ever” and makes her ringtone. To get out of a camping trip with her best friend Rhiannon’s (Aly Michalka) hippy parents, she lies that she has a date with a college freshman and when Rhiannon insinuates that Olive came away from the date deflowered, Olive goes along with the lie. Faster than mono spreads in a game of spin the bottle, the entire school is quickly aware of Olive’s promiscuity. At first she appreciates the newfound attention and finds the farce a bit comical, but things get complicated when she helps her bullied gay friend strengthen his manly reputation by agreeing to let him tell the school that she had sex with him. What results is a complicated social web of rumors and lies that are meant to reference Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Scarlet Letter—which Olive is reading in her English class—from the ultra-religious “Jesus Freak” attackers, to the scarlet “A” she sews onto her clothes.
Director Will Gluck’s Easy A is a good film. Or, at least the first half is. At a time when teen comedies are often full of stereotypes, excessive parties, sex, and rampant clichés, Easy A is refreshing. The screenwriter, Bert V. Royal, has a strong concept, one that allows for insightful comments on high school girls’ struggle with their sexuality and the double-standards they face, and one that isn’t strictly about high school cliques or climbing from the shadows up the social ladder. It talks about sex without flaunting it or preaching against it, and the movie walks a blurry line between being strictly teen-entertainment and being controversy. Interestingly, the film straddles this line without ever falling into either category. Still, the movie is flawed, its major problem being that it aims for too much. Like crushing a pill and hiding it in ice cream, the script relies on Olive’s webcast narration to force the audience to swallow the coincidences it depends on. By having Olive acknowledge the absurdity of reading a book in class that of course mirrors her life, the audience can accept it. In the same way, Olive expresses her love for John Hughes movies and other cheesy romantic comedies of the past so that when a boy holds speakers outside her bedroom window blasting 80s pop music à la “Say Anything,” it’s justified. Olive’s narration is a crutch and a way to masquerade as a movie that’s defying romantic-comedy conventions when it’s really just clearing the path for them. There is nothing wrong with the conventions, the same conventions made John Hughes’ career, but the fact that the film parades around as if it’s either defying them or playing homage to the classics if off-putting because it does neither.
About halfway through the film, the plot gets too complicated. Without giving away the twist, I’ll just say they lost me at Chlamydia and those who’ve seen it will understand what I mean. The twists are too extreme, are layered too heavily to be taken as plausible and seem to be conflict for conflict’s sake. But, just before the ending, Gluck and Royal—with the help of the goofily sweet and charming Todd (Penn Badgley) who wears the laid-back, boy-next-door shoes perfectly—reel you back in. Mostly this is due to the lack of romance, or at least it is a somewhat realistic romance. Attraction isn’t enveloped in corny lines, longing stares, and grand declarations of love. The romance in the movie is sweet, simple, and it takes the back burner to the rest of the story which makes it plausible. The plot is a roller coaster, not necessarily in a good way, but not entirely bad either. It falls apart in sections, reels you back in, and leaves you crimped from the twisting.
One of the film’s strong points, though, is its casting of Olive’s unconventional but completely endearing parents. Played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, their characters provide unique humor and warmth to the movie, making you feel like if given the opportunity you would gladly wish to be adopted into the family. In one hilarious scene they chant “tee, teee, tee” over and over as they try to guess what “t”-word Olive received detention for saying before finally giving up and demanding, “Spell it with your peas!”
Emma Stone is the real star, but Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson provide an excellent backdrop for her impeccable comic delivery. The laughs throughout are consistent (although many of them involve repeating a phrase or a word over and over to the point of irritation like “Olive has a boy in her room” and something about Rhiannon’s boobs) and despite the ambitious plot that gets tangled in conflict, the knots untie with little damage. The movie is smart, the acting is solid, and the film has a message which, for a teen comedy, is pretty good. Easy A isn’t perfect, but it’s an entertaining and nostalgic jaunt back to high school, with an outstanding cast and many quotable one-liners that will take fans a few views to master but they will master nonetheless.