Film Review: Easy A

Directed by Will Gluck. Starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson. 2010 – 92mn – 15Review by Walter Nichols

A riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Easy A is a high school comedy best described as Clueless meets Juno meets Superbad. Olive (Emma Stone), a pretty and intelligent high school student, decides to help a gay friend integrate by pretending to have sex with him, thus making him straight – i.e., acceptable and unbullyable. She repeats the fake experience with a couple of other outcast students, and before she knows it, she’s labeled throughout the school as a tramp. Instead of fighting the rumors, Olive, inspired by Hawthorne’s story, buys some extra-slutty clothes, stitches a red A (for adulteress) onto her breast, and sets out to abuse the rumor mill to improve her social standing. In the process she falls foul of Marianne (Amanda Bynes), the leader of the school’s right-wing “Jesus freaks”; and grows closer to hunk Todd (Penn Badgley) on whom she’s had a crush since she was a little girl. Predictably, though, her plan starts going wrong, and she finds herself stuck in her newfound reputation without any way out.

It’s an interesting premise that could’ve looked at so much of the absurdity of high school social mores today – how fast rumours spread, how Facebook has made young people’s history both more public and more indelible than ever before, and how often teenagers, out of a desperate need to keep up, put on behavior (sexual and otherwise) they have no real experience of. Regrettably Easy A doesn’t really want to explore any of this. What it does want is lots of sex jokes and shocking puns. The film delivers those well enough, but without structuring them in a plot that keeps your attention. There are too many characters – from Olive’s wisecracking, Juno-esque parents played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, her favorite teacher played by Thomas Haden Church, his wife played by Lisa Kudrow, their headmaster played by Malcolm McDowell, and that’s just a shortlist of the adult characters, let alone the actual teenagers – and very few of them have any bearing on the story. They are mostly there because they serve as good types for a couple of funny jokes, and the film feels discombobulated and unfocused as a result.

The film’s world is poorly set up as well. A high-school comedy needs to take place in a world that is either slightly elevated reality (Some Kind of Wonderful, say) or full-out wish-fulfillment fantasy (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Easy A somewhat lamely falls inbetween the two. It claims to be of the first type, insightful and satirical, but it really is the second kind, absolutely devoid of hierarchy and consequence.

It’s worth seeing for Emma Stone, whose mature turn here should make her a star, and there are enough laughs to keep you entertained til the end. Don’t expect to remember or cherish it afterwards, though.

Star rating: 2 out of 5 stars