Movie Review: Easy A
By Matthew Huntley
October 5, 2010
Easy A is brimming with social commentary and isn’t shy about any of it. Perhaps it knew it was a lost cause trying to disguise itself as a loose retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, so instead of trying to be subtle, it’s blatant and upfront about its messages. Fortunately, this approach allows it the freedom to relax and simply charm us with its comedy and characters.
Emma Stone plays Olive (a name she’ll tell you is anagram for “I love”), a straight-as-an-arrow high school student who, hitherto now, has lived a life free of depravity. She doesn’t drink or smoke, she’s not depressed or withdrawn, and she’s still pure in every sense of the word. But her squeaky clean image suddenly ends when her friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) pressures her into admitting she had sex with a college guy over the weekend, which we know is not true because Olive was too busy singing to herself and painting her dog’s toenails. Still, she goes along with it just to humor Rhiannon. What she didn’t count on was the self-righteous Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhearing their conversation and spreading the fabrication around school.
Soon enough, every student hears about it, either by way of whisper, class note or text message (or all of the above), and the rumor spreads that Olive is bit of trollop. Never mind that her old reputation suggests nothing of the kind, but this being high school, people automatically believe you are what other students say you are. Some students are impressed, maybe even turned on, while others, like the pompous Christian group led by Marianne, look upon her with disgust and believe she needs to be saved. No matter how you look at it, though, Olive is now the most popular girl in school, which illustrates the movie’s first obvious point: depravity begets notoriety.
Olive’s gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) actually views her newfound infamy as opportunity. In a particularly well written and sincerely acted scene, he asks her if she’ll pretend they slept together. He says it would give him a much-needed break from all the bullies and tormenting that comes with being gay. Olive is reluctant but agrees, and after their faux moment of passion, which the other students listen intently in on, other insecure adolescent males (which is just about every adolescent male) start to ask Olive for the same favor. In exchange, they shower her with gift certificates and coupons, suggesting that paying a girl with money to say she had sex with you is old fashioned (it also wouldn’t allow the movie to plug real stores like Target and Home Depot).
Olive obtains quite the reputation and she’s happy to entertain it for a while, or at least until it starts to do more harm than good. This leads to the movie’s second major point: living a lie always has its consequences.
Just as Easy A isn’t coy about its own clichés (it openly discusses them), it doesn’t try to hide how much it borrows from other teen comedies, among them the classic John Hughes films from the 1980s, as well as Can’t Buy Me Love and Say Anything. When Olive references them, though, we don’t get the impression it’s the screenwriter talking, but rather Olive herself. I’ve met and known girls like Olive before and I believed she really would fantasize about being the heroine in a teen comedy. What teenager hasn’t, at one point or another, dreamed such a thing? It’s that truth and credibility toward teenagers that makes Easy A work and I appreciated that it didn’t simply exploit teenagers’ insecurities for cheap laughs, but instead looked at them with truth, sympathy and sensitivity. The movie starts off as a self-aware play on a classic novel and age-old Hollywood conventions, but it eventually comes back to the characters.
What’s also encouraging is the movie doesn’t just dismiss the adults as one-dimensional stooges who exist only to patronize or cause trouble for the teenagers. It was refreshing to find Olive has such an open relationship with her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and is unafraid to tell them things directly and honestly - rare in the movies (and another nod to Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything). Even the adults at school are seen as human beings. The down-to-earth English teacher (Thomas Haden Church) and his guidance counselor wife (Lisa Kudrow) are given the chance to express themselves and make mistakes.
Easy A isn’t all that original (it sort of celebrates that it’s not), but it’s got an attitude and spirit that’s fresh and appealing. The camera clearly loves Emma Stone and she carries the film with grace and humility. Story-wise, it would have been nice if the movie had taken more risks and tried to form something more original out of its classic set-up, perhaps an identity of its own, but then again, the fact that it tries to be like and reference so many other movies might be a metaphor for how teenagers are always trying to blend in and be someone they’re not. I believed Easy A to be aware and intelligent enough for that to be an actual possibility.