Every once in a while, a movie comes along which successfully encapsulates the teen life of its respective era. Take, for instance, such films as Clueless and Mean Girls. 2010’s Easy A is a continuation of this tradition, exploring high school life in an age of online social networking. Like Clueless, Easy A‘s screenwriter Bert V. Royal and director Will Gluck have taken a classic piece of literature (in this case The Scarlett Letter) and placed the story in a modern context, complete with biting satire, pop culture percipience and witty comedy, turning an age-old narrative into something fresh-feeling. On top of being fun to watch, Easy A is multi-layered, making it an ideal movie to represent teen life circa 2010. Also, just as Clueless introduced Alicia Silverstone as a leading lady, Easy A might be Emma Stone’s star-making role (let’s just hope Stone’s career turns out better…).
Essentially an invisible social ghost, brainy high school student Olive Penderghast (Stone) is despondent about the lack of male interest in her life. In order to avoid a weekend camping trip with best friend Rhiannon (Michalka) and her creepy family, Olive lies and says she that has a date with a college boy. The following week, Rhiannon immediately jumps to the conclusion that Olive lost her virginity to her fictional date; an assumption that fuels the rumour mills and rapidly spreads around the school, suddenly making Olive an object of interest. Enjoying the resultant sense of power, Olive allows rumours of further sexual trysts to spread, as she accepts money from male peers to say that they had sex. But Olive’s unexpected popularity brings about a troubled reputation, and things go from controversy to chaos.
Easy A does for teen comedies what Scream did for slashers, as the film slyly satirises the genre’s clichés while at the same time having no choice but to adhere to them. Bert V. Royal’s script also incisively explores aspects of contemporary teenage culture, including the struggle to be your true self in the face of social pressure, the heady price of popularity, and the way that privacy has diminished in today’s era of Facebook and Twitter when intimate personal information can become common knowledge. Added to this, Easy A is an affectionate love letter to the late, great John Hughes and his movies that remain esteemed to this day. Olive discusses Hughes’ output at times, iconic songs from his movies are included (including Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me), and there’s even a montage of scenes from such Hughes films as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Say Anything and Sixteen Candles. But it’s not that screenwriter Royal lazily leaned on them to eschew the need for creativity – Hughes’ works are simply used to show the difference between reality and an ’80s movie.
Of course, all of this material could have resulted in a cringe-inducing, “hip” self-aware drag, but Easy A is the exact opposite. Although Will Gluck’s filmmaking debut, 2009’s Fired Up!, was an unwatchable piece of shit, the director has matured for his sophomore effort, pulling together a predominantly fast-paced, energetic teen comedy that would make John Hughes proud. Gluck’s sense of comic timing is spot-on, doing justice to the screenplay’s one-liners which will have you howling with laughter. Easy A also benefits from attractive photography and genuinely skilful shot construction, including several tracking shots (most notably for the opening and closing credits) that impress mightily. But with that said, the film isn’t perfect. Most glaringly, it’s confusing that Olive gets the reputation of a slut even though the school’s male population seem to be aware that they can pay her for pretend sex. And the film’s acerbic wit deteriorates from time to time, leaving slow patches which give the impression that everyone was on autopilot. Perhaps this comes as a result of too many subplots being crammed into this simple story.
Emma Stone has proven herself to be a strong supporting performer over the past few years (see Zombieland and Superbad), but Easy A denotes her first solo leading role, and the terrific results show that she deserves to be in the upper echelon of young acting talent. Stone’s performance is so amiable and funny, but she seems effortlessly natural and real whenever she’s on-screen as well. Also brilliant are Stone’s interactions with Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, who play Olive’s parents. They share a terrific family dynamic, and their scenes together are some of the brightest and most enjoyable segments in the flick. Thankfully, Tucci and Clarkson were not bound by the usual strict, mean, clueless parental stereotype – rather, they come across as smart, non-judgemental, respectful human beings who know that their daughter needs her own personal space and privacy. The rest of the cast is surprisingly star-studded, with Thomas Haden Church who’s ideal as Olive’s cool English teacher, Lisa Kudrow who steals the show as a guidance counsellor, and even Malcolm McDowell who shows up from time to time as the principal of Olive’s school.
Hollywood churns out tonnes of truly awful movies about teens, so it’s a joy to witness a teen comedy that’s as witty and intelligent as Easy A. Heck, it’s so well-written and well-made that it should become the new essential sex comedy. Rather than something like American Pie which relied on gross jokes and sex references, Easy A is a more honest examination of the consequences of sex (real or made up) and society’s idea of what sex really means.