A film review by Craig J. Koban September 27, 2010
2010, PG-13, 90 mins.
2010, PG-13, 90 mins.
Olive: Emma Stone / Brandon: Dan Byrd / Marianne: Amanda
Bynes / Rosemary: Patricia Clarkson
It would be easy to label EASY A as a rudimentary teen sex comedy, as many critics have done. Yet, that descriptor could not be further from the truth: the makers of the film have aptly and correctly described EASY A as a “sexless sex comedy”.
Its story concerns
a socially stunted and virginal young high school student that, in a desperate
attempt to secure some much needed popularity among her alienated peers,
pretends to have intercourse with as many partners as possible.
Some “teen sex comedies” focus more on the raunchy,
scatological shenanigans that are staples of the genre, but EASY A is more
sly, perceptive, and thoughtful of its subject matter.
It is a riot at times, to be sure, but it contains subtle and
pervasive truths about the nature of adolescent popularity and how that
oftentimes is confused with shameful notoriety. The way the film dissects what it means for a young woman
to be admired and the lengths that she will go to in order to achieve a beloved status shows a cleverness and understanding that many other
Not only is EASY A
an incisively hysterical social satire for the way it examines the
microcosm of teen insecurity, but it also marks a triumphant star making
film for young Emma Stone, and if you have not fallen for this deceptively
gorgeous, sassy, effervescent, and smart
actress yet then you sure will find it hard not to after watching EASY A.
You may remember the husky voiced red-haired beauty in small film
roles like SUPERBAD followed by larger
ones in THE ROCKER and ZOMBIELAND,
but her radiant perkiness, fresh faced enthusiasm and devilishly
self-deprecating charm are jubilantly on
display for all to see here in her first attempt to completely carry a
film. She is so funny, so
utterly adorable, so sweet minded, so shrewdly crafty, and so
wholeheartedly winning here: the camera just loves this girl, but she more than matches her
below-the-radar sex appeal with a real strength for
comedy that completely anchors the film around her.
This film squarely puts her on the radar.
She plays Olive, an intelligent, attractive, and very, very ordinary high school
student that is liked by a very small contingent of friends, but has not
achieved the level of widespread celebrity status that she secretly
craves. Worse yet is the fact
that she is – gasp! – a virgin, which leads to her contemplating
that perhaps the best way to kick start her popularity at her school is
to get laid. Despite the
notion that she is very outgoing and easy on the eyes, Olive’s social
life is pretty much non-existent. Growing
very tired of being thought of as a nobody, she decides to tell her best friend (Aly Michalka)
that she had a one night stand with a college man.
It is at this
point where Olive’s revelation has some unintended side effects.
The school’s resident Jesus-loving zealot, Marianne (the retired
and then unretired Amanda Bynes) overhears Olive’s confession and, of
course, begins broadcasting it to her friends, whom in turn relay it to their
friends...and so on and so on. With
the aid of ubiquitous technology (cell phones, text messages, online chats,
etc) alongside old-fashioned note exchanges in classrooms, Olive's sex-ploits
become the event of the…morning. Within
no time, she finds herself at the center of attention and, to her
delight, boys start to take a very keen interest in her.
Now, Olive does not actually bed a whole bunch of rather eager and willing high school lads. She seems more enamored at first with the notion of being the center of attention more than with the sexual gratification of sleeping with someone. She begins to use her newfound status in compelling ways to actually continue to maintain her popularity while also making some extra cash on the side. Shy and impressionable teen boys try to score with her, much to her initial chagrin, but she does help them, so to speak, by accepting money and gift cards to act like she had sex with them, which not only makes her richer in the pocket book, but also richer in terms of her social status. Plus, she gets to help out her fellow geeks.
Olive then takes
one massive step that uncontrollably marks the beginning of her newfound reputation
getting the better of her:
She decides to assist one of her gay friends (Dan Byrd) to fend off
the bullying of some degenerate heterosexual classmates by making it
appear that he has gone straight. Their
plan is both fiendish, clever, and a bit risky: she will take him to a
very public party as her date, get him into a closed bedroom that is
accessible to multiple eavesdroppers, and will…uh…have fake
intercourse with him, which will make all witnesses think that he has
become straight. Their plan
succeeds during the comic highlight of the film where Byrd and Stone go to
hilarious lengths to verbally relay intercourse without actually having
The plan goes
well, perhaps a bit too well. Boys
flock to and come on to Olive for the hopeful chance of having
sex with her, and the more that occurs the more she begins to see eerie
parallels between her life and that of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER (she at one point begins to where the
letter A on her smutty clothing as a reference to the heroine of the book,
which is ironically funny mostly because the illiterates around her don’t get the
reference. “A is for
awesome,” she uproariously deadpans to one half-wit).
Unfortunately for Olive, things begin to snowball really fast and
out of control, so much so that the reality of her situation is catching
up to fiction that she has presented to her peers, which in turn makes it
really hard for her to hook up with the boy of her dreams (Ben Badgley) in a
meaningful relationship. She
begins to realize that she has become a whore in more ways than one.
V. Royal creates a lot of breezy, rapid fire banter for his teen characters
and part of the pleasure of the film is to see Olive as a witty and
uncommonly well spoken girl surrounded by those that are her
intellectually inferior. Some
critics of this film have lamented that Olive is far too wise, perceptive,
gifted with words, and mature minded to be considered a credible teen
presence. That’s an
insult, not to mention a baseless criticism that has, for example, befallen Diablo
Cody’s lyrically rich and textured teen dialogue in her films.
The wordplay and characters in EASY A are purposely stylized and
are meant to be enjoyed for their sharp-tongued cleverness.
How many times have we all been subjugated to teen films where we
see young characters act and speak like simpleminded buffoons?
When teen personas like Olive are written with a real flavor and a sophistication it is something to be rejoiced, not shunned, and
Emma Stone is so resoundingly equal to the task.
The actors around
her are decent as well: I especially liked Patricia Clarkson and Stanley
Tucci as Olive’s insidiously goofy, but extremely likeable and
supportive parents (how wonderful is it that paternal figures in teen
comedy are not seen as hopelessly naive ignoramuses in their child’s
lives?). Then there is Lisa
Kudrow in a small supporting performance as a guidance counselor that has
a decidedly tawdry secret that she tries to keep from both her students
and her husband, the latter who happens to be a teacher at the same school, played by Thomas Hayden
Church. Kudrow creates a
character that is both manically funny while being a petty and
self-interested figure of contempt (no easy task) and Church is just a
delight as one of Olive’s favorite instructors.
Is there a better actor (perhaps with the exception of Bill Murray)
that can dryly deadpan the most perfunctory of lines and make them
hysterical? Just look at how
Church says, at one point, “Don’t forget that tomorrow is Earth Day”
after a particularly awkward moment of silence with Olive for just the
right knee slapping effect.
For as smart and penetrating as EASY A is with its satirical subjects, the film makes some missteps, mostly with the way that many side characters are too simplistically and one dimensionally developed in comparison to the Stone’s Olive. Amanda Bynes' born-again Christian character is gratingly over-the-top and cartoonishly rendered (the film takes some really, really easy shots at religious fanaticism that seems both stale and desperate), not to mention that that Olive’s potential suitor that could be her real boyfriend (played by Badgley) is an absolute bore that is terribly underwritten (even though he occupies a brief, but nifty homage to a classic scene in SAY ANYTHING: think MP3 speakers instead of a boom box). Yet, EASY A emerges as genuinely smarter, more dramatically and comically discerning, and more singularly observant of its teen subjects and themes than most genre efforts. That, and the exquisite and unequivocally appealing presence of Emma Stone makes the film a sparkling delight. You will fall head over heels for her in the film. Easily.