WFTB Score: 13/20
The plot: When bright student Olive Penderghast allows best friend Rhiannon to believe that she’s ‘done the deed’, she sets off a chain of events that quickly spiral out of control. For, having had sex once, she concludes that there’s no real harm in rumours spreading that she’s put out for other people too. While Olive’s supposed loose morals help others’ reputations, hers begins to suffer; something she secretly enjoys – until her lies start disrupting lives in unwelcome ways.
In most respects, Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is a smart cookie, flying high in English where teacher Mr Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) is taking them through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and capably keeping up with the verbal sparring of her with-it Californian parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson). However, inventing a date to get out of camping with the weird parents of best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) isn’t so smart, especially when Olive blithely fibs that she also had sex with her date.
The rumour spreads around school, outraging the Christian group led by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) and resulting in Olive becoming even more headstrong. The other consequence is that Olive’s friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) asks if he can also ‘sleep’ with her to mask his sexuality, a request she eventually accepts – especially given the financial compensation on offer.
As word of Olive’s promiscuity spreads, she enjoys living down to her new role of ‘skank’ and starts wearing a scarlet ‘A’ in emulation of Hester Prynne; on the other hand, Rhiannon deserts her, a jock tries to call her bluff, and despite the intervention of “Woodchuck” Todd (Penn Badgley) her life starts becoming rather problematic, especially when it results in others getting hurt.
Easy A has plenty going for it. Firstly, it benefits enormously from Emma Stone’s presence in the lead role. Stone – Jonah Hill’s girl (yeah, right) in Superbad – is a strong, warm and essentially friendly on-screen presence, effortlessly conveying the fact that Olive is only playing at being sexy (her new-found sluttiness, complete with breathy delivery of provocative dialogue, recalls Olivia Newton-John’s transformation in Grease) and eventually finds herself out of her depth. There are bright turns from Badgley, Bynes and the other youngsters – though they are, as is the way of these things, all in their twenties – while both Tucci and Clarkson have enormous fun as Olive’s (excessively-?) liberal parents. There’s also an appealingly dudeish performance from Haden Church and a satisfyingly spiky one from Lisa Kudrow as the school’s spiteful counsellor.
Secondly, unlike some films in the genre, Easy A is cannily written, Bert V. Royal catching the sharp, bitchy exchanges of high schoolers with aplomb. Simultaneously, he fully and respectfully acknowledges where the story’s coming from, cinematically speaking (Say Anything, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, etc. etc. – there’s also a very good joke about the Demi Moore bathathon version of The Scarlet Letter). The movie’s metaphorical hat-doffing to about thirty years’ of teen movies helps to make Easy A very watchable for at least a few generations, from the current web-savvy crowd back to those who fondly remember Molly Ringwald’s lovely titian locks (or, if you prefer, John Cusack holding up his boombox). And while Olive’s religious searching provides a little lull, the film is packed with sassy entertainment for the rest of its fighting fit hour-and-a-half.
There are, however, downsides to Easy A’s knowing approach. Olive’s awareness of the movies she’s emulating effectively prevents us from taking her plight too seriously; so even when she’s being hit on aggressively, or spurned socially, we as viewers aren’t too concerned because we know she’s fine really – both the inherently artificial framing device (a webcast confessional) and the lackadaisical attitude of her too-cool-for-school parents see to that.
While on the subject of Olive’s family, what on Earth is the point of Bryce Clyde Jenkins’ Chip, her adoptive African-American brother? We already know the Penderghasts are progressive: Royal could at least have given him something to do, rather than stare and be the recipient of Tucci’s (I presume) ad libs.
Neither is Easy A the most original premise in the world. It is, at heart, a High School movie, loosely based on a Nineteenth-Century work of fiction, set on the West Coast, featuring a house party, a musical number, and overzealous, hypocritical Christians as the bad guys. While ticking the boxes established by a thousand previous films, its good-girl-gone-bad theme specifically has strong overtones of Mean Girls; and many of its other tropes are uninspired, to put it mildly. That said, Olive and Brandon’s non-sex scene contains funnier fumblings than anything the American Pie saga has to offer. Indeed, the whole thing works as a sort of anti-American Pie: why bother actually losing your virginity, if you can pay someone to boost your social status without any of the palaver? Discuss the ethics of this at your own leisure.
While my praise for the film is undoubtedly qualified, and I’ll probably be much less impressed the next time around, I enjoyed the easy watching provided by Easy A and its bright young(ish) things. It may not break much new ground, but provides a neat twist on teenage angst about sex. What’s more, it’s always clever and is consistently funny; in a world where the likes of Movie 43 can find a place (oh Emma, why?), that’s very, very welcome.