© 2010 Ray Wong
Teenage sex comedies can go either way: Judd Apatow-style hard R movies such as Superbad, or something like Mean Girls. Easy A is somewhere in between, not hardcore enough to be completely raunchy, but too much edge to be suitable for After School Special.
Olive (Emma Stone) is a high school senior who has lived most of her life mostly as an invisible person. She's not nerdy enough to be ostracized, but not popular enough to be noticed either. To avoid spending a weekend camping with her best friend's (Alyson Michakla) wacky parents, she makes up a story of having spent the weekend with a college freshman (a one-night stand). When the school's Christian leader Marianne (Amanda Bynes) hears about it, she starts to spread rumor about Olive being a slut.
Finally, Olive gets the attention she wants. Her gay best friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) suggests they put on a show to a) convince others that Brandon is straight and b) seal Olive's reputation as the "it" girl. Soon, things get out of hands as guys start to pay Olive to be their beards. The rumors eventually get out of hand. At first, she goes with the flow and decides she doesn't care, but the truth is, she cares. And when her lies get tangled up with a teacher's marriage, she decides she needs to come clean once and for all.
Emma Stone (Zombieland) owns the film. Seldom do we get a heroine so endearing, sarcastic, and genuine. She carries the entire movie with a great personality, and we can't help but root for her, even if she's doing all the wrong thing just to get noticed. Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) is a bit typecast as the "mean girl," but she handles the caricatural role with ease.
Penn Badgley (The Stepfather) is under-used and somewhat "too good to be true" as Olive's object of affection, but he's charming. Dan Byrd (Norman) has a lot of fun playing the gay best friend. Alyson Michalka (Bandslam) plays the cliched best friend with energy, and Cam Gigandet (Twilight) goes out of his comfort zone and plays a Bible-thumping teen.
The adults are generally good, too, in their limited roles. Thomas Haden Church (All About Steve) is uncharacteristically sincere as Olive's favorite English teacher. Lisa Kudrow (Bandslam) has one of the most interesting nervous breakdown scenes as the guidance counselor. Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones) and Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island) are fantastic as Olive's funny, warm and supportive, super liberal parents -- now we know where Olive got her sarcastic sense of humor.
Bert V. Royal's (Gigantic) first foray to the big screen is a mix bag. The screenplay has been described as a cross between Mean Girls and Saved. I can see the similarities, but I think Royal has done something a bit different. Still a coming of age story, it tackles interesting themes such as teen sexuality, social networking (how rumors spread fast and wide in the age of Twitter and texting), and honesty. That said, the situations often seem contrived -- I mean, in what decade are these teens living that losing one's virginity is such big news? Intentional or not, there's a pervasive "retro" feel to the story.
The dialogue is generally funny and the situations are chuckle-worthy, but there are not enough laugh-out-loud moments. The comedy is often subtle and amusing, but not hilariously funny. Many of the characters are just mishmash of cliches and stereotypes, and they don't have enough depth. By far the most successful element is the character of Olive, who is the most three-dimensional. It also helps that Emma Stone brings a lot to the role and practically becomes the story.
Will Gluck's (Fired Up!) direction serves the story well. The pacing is crisp and it weaves through the storyline well. I wish he hadn't used so much voice-over, however. While Olive's sarcasm and deadpan humor are endearing, and Emma Stone's delivery is marvelous, too much voice over bogs down the narrative. Show, don't tell. In general, Gluck keeps the plot clipping along, and there is seldom a dull moment.
Easy A is an amiable, amusing and interesting look into life as an underachiever in high school. It's not groundbreaking and is often bogged down by cliches and stereotypes, but Emma Stone's standout performance saves it from being one of those dreadful teenage comedies. Her star has risen! I'd give the film a B and the actress an easy A.
Stars: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Alyson Michalka
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Bert V. Royal
Distributor: Screen Gems
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including teen sexuality, language and drug use
Running Time: 92 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10