Film Review – Easy A
Easy A, the new comedy from director Will Gluck and writer Bert V. Royal, tells of the sham and genuine misadventures of Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone), a teenage virgin who possesses two of the great qualities for movie main characters: a sardonic wit and a tendency to make bad choices. While the movie presents one of those typical Hollywood stretches in asking us to believe that Olive is never noticed by boys (again…played by Emma Stone), I can at least believe that she’s the sort of girl who would think she was never noticed by boys. As her jokes fly over others’ heads and her blond, outgoing best friend provides her main comparison point, she’s just enough of a self-perceived misfit to say “to hell with it” when a chance to rock the high school boat comes along.
A misinterpreted comment that Olive impulsively decides not to correct, overheard by just the wrong Mean Girl—the school’s Christian queen, Marianne (Amanda Bynes)—leads to the general populace believing she’s lost her virginity to a college boy. A verbal confrontation with one of Marianne’s minions lands Olive in detention, where she reconnects with an old acquaintance, Brandon (Dan Byrd). Brandon hatches a plan for the two of them to pretend to have had sex, so that he can convince his daily tormentors that he’s straight. Olive, reluctant at first, caves when she sees Brandon’s desperation. Once the decision’s made, she throws herself into her mission with an understandable desire to dismiss others’ expectations of her, but a naive disregard of what the domino consequences will be.
Olive’s adventures as a teenage impostor-harlot take turns both predictable and surprising, ricocheting through the large cast of characters. We’re treated to solid supporting performances from a surprising number of marvelous actors, including Thomas Hayden Church and Lisa Kudrow as married faculty members caught up in Olive’s wave of transgression, and Malcolm McDowell as the obligatory bitter school principal. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are particular highlights as Olive’s affectionate parents, who are pleasantly kooky in a way you might actually see in real life, except with more impeccable timing. (They are the sort of characters you hope you might get for in-laws one day.) The younger cast members are unfortunately more hit and miss. I’m a fan of Amanda Bynes, but this isn’t the right role for her. Marianne is a shrieking cliché that doesn’t quite belong in the same realm as the nuanced Olive. Dan Byrd, who I adore from the charming, short-lived sitcom Aliens in America and now Cougar Town, shows off his perfect comic delivery during the fake sex scene, but is underused from there.
The biggest problem with the film, though, is the very tacked-on feeling thread with Olive’s real love interest, Todd (Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl, not reaching beyond his Dan Humphrey range here). We never get an opportunity to learn much about him, and the storyline comes off as merely a means to reference scenes from a few of the 1980s teen films this one pays homage to. It is disappointing, too, in a film that tries at least moderately to comment on the ridiculous pressures faced by teen girls in regards to relationships, sexual reputations, and the way teenage boys see them, that the story need include a white knight character at all.
While I could pontificate at length about the gender issues at play, I’ll save that for another day. What I should emphasize is that this film is very funny. There’s enough clever dialogue that I know I missed some of it while laughing at lines that came before. Emma Stone never hits a wrong note, and is easily setting herself up to be our next great go-to romantic heroine. She has a way of tilting her head and scrunching her face that could make just about any line hilarious. Watching her play off of the veteran actors in the cast, it becomes more obvious than it already was that she is the real deal. She is the main reason that I know I’ll be watching this movie again in the future, even though I don’t think it quite lived up to the potential of its premise.
Final Grade: B