A film review by Craig J. Koban September 27, 2010

EASY A jjj

2010, PG-13, 90 mins.


Olive: Emma Stone / Brandon: Dan Byrd / Marianne: Amanda Bynes / Rosemary: Patricia Clarkson
Dill: Stanley Tucci / Mr. Griffith: Thomas Haden Church / Mrs. Griffith: Lisa Kudrow / Principal: Malcolm McDowell

Directed by Will Gluck / Written by Bert V. Royal

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 comedies lack. 

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 any. 

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. 

Screenwriter Bert 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.

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