Review: Easy A

By  · Published on September 17th, 2010

Emma Stone is up to her elbows in boys that want to pretend to sleep with her. In the movie Easy A she plays Olive, the smart girl that’s generally ignored by her class who gets a taste of popularity by way of infamy and continues to trash her own reputation in order to have one.

She pretends to have sex with a gay classmate in order to boost his social status, and what results is a trip into a world of perception, heartache, trying to get with the school mascot, and a big red A on her chest.

The high school sex comedy is one of the sluts of the genre world – everyone’s done it, and it’s not all that impressive even when you do nail it. There are just too many examples out there, and the fatal flaw hanging out in the breeze is that teenagers just aren’t all that interesting. They mostly sit around on couches, text, and fall asleep during class. These (anecdotal) examples aren’t meant to belittle the dramatic potential or to be ageist against the young folk. They are meant to elevate the achievement of director Will Gluck and what he’s done with Easy A.

Without shoving in a heightened sense of teenage rebellion (like Kids or Thirteen), Gluck has created a real-feeling insight into the only thing that matters in high school which is also the thing that should matter least: how other people think of you. Instead of being played for severity, the issue is played for the farce it really is.

Emma Stone is as adorable as you’d expect her to be in the role of Olive – the slightly sarcastic, far more advanced for her age-range virgin that tells a white lie that spreads across campus before the truth can plug in its iPhone. She’s an un-self-conscious girl who almost watches as a spectator while her reputation (this invisible, non-entity) gets trashed. Her acceptance and adoption of that reputation as reality leads her to start wearing lingerie to school and to set up a system where young men can pay her gift cards for the pleasure of being involved in that reputation without actually seeing any action.

For a comedy that delivers laughs on a steady basis, it’s a touching and strangely deep movie about how we’re perceived by others and how we choose to react to that perception. This isn’t a romantic comedy where the sweet young redhead pines for the handsome popular boy and ends up catching his eye. This is a personal story about a young girl learning a more valuable lesson than “I need a man to complete myself.” The lesson is not to avoid caring what other people think, but to truly understand what isn’t anyone’s business.

The humor in the film comes directly from 1) how monumentally likable Emma Stone is and 2) the Lucille Ball-esque situation she’s gotten herself into. Instead of chocolates coming down the conveyor belt too quickly, it’s accusations that she’s bedding down the entire football team. Still, her character seems to handle everything like a pilot who stays calm during free fall. She’s a smart girl, engaging in the kind of effortless chemistry that makes it seem false that she was ever invisible to her classmates, but things move beyond the normal fall out from whispers in the hallway and start affecting more serious relationships. It’s then that Stone’s acting ability really shines.

The writing here is strong story wise, and it has a lot of clever wordplay (as if a pun title didn’t tip you off). It does get a bit too referential – tossing out movie lines like candy at a parade – and there are times when the script is patting itself on the back for being so clever, but over all it’s an innovative take on high school that works well.

The supporting cast is allowed to put their talents on display as well. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play parents who wouldn’t know how to ground Olive even if she did something wrong. They’re a modernized version of the 50s atomic family where everyone gets along perfectly (the only update is that everyone is hilarious and slightly sarcastic during heartfelt moments). Penn Badgely successfully pulls off the school mascot love interest who almost assuredly is toking up inside the suit. However, the most fascinating stand out is now-retired actress Amanda Bynes who, as the school’s know-it-all evangelical Christian, can manage a serious crying scene and then go right back into the walking stereotype that she’s created. It’s the sort of foot stomping, face clenching performance she’s delivered before, but this time it includes a few sober acting moments that fit easily into the tone of the rest of the film.

The factor keeping the movie from being a classic is its self-awareness. Maybe it’s a victim of the times we live in, or the insistence of Gluck that his characters should talk the way “real people” talk (only more polished), but the heavy amount of pointing to other pieces of pop culture roots the movie in a way that keeps it from transcending. Its tone is also a bit more slight – leaving it no opportunity to find the balance that John Hughes found in having his characters break down while admitting to their detention-earning crimes after a huge dance break. It may seem unfair to compare the film to Hughes’s iconic work, but the film opens itself up to that, and even to evoke the comparison is more of a compliment to Easy A than anything else.

Over all the movie features a great lead performance, a truly supportive supporting cast, a healthy dose of humor, and a deeper meaning to wrap your mind around if you’re looking for it. Easy A makes its mark as a high school comedy by delivering something universal – a story about reputation, why it matters, and why it doesn’t. We’ve all got one, and after you stop laughing, you might just start thinking about what scarlet letter you’d have to pin to your chest.

The Upside: A great cast, a funny script, and innovation in the teen comedy world.

The Downside: A bit too much self-awareness and a few too many pop culture references that become grating.

On the Side: Emma Stone didn’t go to high school.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.