Review: EASY A

Devin gives high marks to the Emma Stone high school slut comedy.

Easy A is one of those teen movies where you’re asked to believe that a fairly gorgeous young woman is anonymous at her high school. Jump over that hurdle and you find that Stone plays the ultimate crush-worthy character - she’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s funny, she’s laid back, she comes from money. Quite simply it’s the strongest young female role in years that Joss Whedon didn’t write.

Into this adorable life falls one white lie; in an attempt to beg out of a camping trip with her annoying best friend, Stone’s Olive pretends to have a date. Following up on that fib she makes the mistake of saying that she went all the way with the imaginary boy, a lie that is overheard by her high school’s Jesus freak prom queen. Olive sees her reputation go from anonymous to infamous and begins taking advantage of it; first she pretends to sleep with a gay kid to help him deal with the endless torment he receives at school and then she begins fake sleeping with other boys in exchange for gift cards. But Olive soon learns that reputations are double edged - while the boys find their social ranks elevated, she ends up being branded the school harlot.

Bert V Royal’s script is way smarter than it needs to be; the film hangs Olive’s experiences on a class-assigned reading of The Scarlet Letter, and in classic Ten Things I Hate About You fashion that should be enough. But Royal really hammers home the unfair divide between the ways that perceived promiscuity impact men and women, and it does so with a remarkable lack of bitterness. Sadly the film fumbles in the final minutes, unable to follow through on the observations and yet deliver a rousing happy Hollywood ending.

In fact Easy A feels like it truly screws things up by the end, where it starts to create a moral equivalency between the lies that Olive allows to spread (her entire deal with the boys is that she simply won’t deny sleeping with/screwing around with/making out with them) and the reactions that she gets. Yes, lying is bad, but what’s worse is deciding that a sexually assured woman is bad while the guys with whom she sleeps are good. By eschewing bitterness the film denies the guys any comeuppance -even the horrible fat kid who essentially deserves prison rape by the end of the movie. You can almost feel the movie hitting the third act and panicking, not quite knowing how the hell to wrap everything up.

I can give some of that a pass based on the vicious way the film treats pious, holier than thou Christians. I don’t know the last time I saw a mainstream massmarket film like Easy A really go after this group, not even presenting one positive portrayal of a person of faith. The entirety of Olive’s problem comes from gossiping, hateful, deceitful, boorish, homophobic Christians - who of course end up being just as sexually promiscuous as everybody else (the film opts to not take the easy shot of making one of the Christians gay. That’s become too cliche in real life at this point). I loved every second of their evisceration.

While Emma Stone is the draw for the movie, the real stars may be Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, playing the most amazing parents in cinema history. Chill, funny and trusting, they drag the film up a level with every one of their scenes. Director Will Gluck has a savvy eye for casting, and he allows his actors to just go with it. Tucci and Clarkson seem to just be having a blast, while Stone is often incredible, managing to be funny and light while also turning on a dime and bringing true emotion to the table. She has a couple of sweet, heartbreaking moments at the end that hint at great possibilities for the actress.

As always is the case with regular movies, I couldn’t help but obsess on a weird tendency I found within Easy A. Besides being a meta reworking of The Scarlet Letter, the film is also a meta love letter to the films of John Hughes. To the extent that Olive talks about those films in voice over, shows clips from them and then ends on a visual reference to them that was telegraphed forty five minutes earlier. This stuff is weird because Easy A is already meta, so it doesn’t need this layer of meta. On top of that, John Hughes movies have generally nothing to do with the thematic interests of the film. All that this did was make me think about the way that Olive is part of the remix generation, a whole generational cohort that is rarely creating anything new or blazing any new trails but rather messing around with what came before. There’s value in that, but Easy A feels like it encapsulates the entirety of that generation, taking meaning in something that was created before and just jamming it in to your new creation to give cheap and simple resonance. It’s strange that a movie as otherwise smart, witty and even wise as Easy A stoops to a montage of John Hughes films, but it does. It reminded me of (500) Days of Summer‘s bullshit hip signifier of The Smiths - a shoehorned reference that means nothing but is guaranteed to elicit a specific response from the desired audience.

I really liked Easy A. It’s not a great film although I think there’s a damn good film lurking within it; it is a fun film, a smart film and a good excuse to hang around Emma Stone for 90 minutes.