Friday, September 17, 2010


Olive is a smart kid unobtrusively waiting out high school in Ojai, California. Truthful by nature, one day she impulsively tells a friend a fib—that she spent the weekend losing her virginity to an older guy from out of town. This tall tale is overheard by the school religious fanatic, goes viral throughout the campus in minutes, & suddenly Olive is no longer unobtrusive.
The ensuing wackiness makes up the balance of Easy A. Olive, played by the throaty, appealing Scottsdale native Emma Stone of Zombieland & Superbad, suddenly finds herself leered at & whispered about. She also receives an unexpected request—a gay kid (Dan Byrd) asks her to pretend to have sex with him at a party, for a fee, so that he can banish his own reputation long enough to get through graduation & out of town. Soon she’s offering this service, in return for retail gift cards, to all the school’s nerds & fatties & other sexual rejects.

As her fallen reputation rises, she takes to wearing sexier & sexier outfits, with a trademark scarlet “A” on them in honor of Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne. The director, Will Gluck, working from a script by Bert V. Royal, is brisk & clever in illustrating the hive-like modes by which teenagers communicate, & he gets lively performances from his large & high-ticket cast. Along with Stone, there’s Amanda Bynes as the Jesus freak, Thomas Haden Church as the cool English teacher, Lisa Kudrow as his guidance counselor wife, Fred Armisen as a minister & Malcolm McDowell as the principal, who sets an all-too-plausible low bar for his own job success. Best of all are Patricia Clarkson & Stanley Tucci as Olive’s flaky, startlingly direct parents; these two, making the most of Royal’s eccentric dialogue, embezzle a sizable portion of this slight but enjoyable movie for themselves.

That they don’t amble off with the whole thing has a lot to with young Stone, who refuses to play her role too slickly or knowingly. She’s good company, & though the film’s dizzy, chatty tone is stylized, Olive comes across as a real & touchingly unsure person.

If it caught you in the wrong mood, I suppose that Easy A could come across as irksomely arch & cutesy instead of clever. In any case, the storyline takes a bad bounce in the final third, when Olive gets connected (falsely) to a more serious adult scandal. Even in a lightweight teen comedy like this, some graver consequence was probably called for, to keep the film from pure fluffiness. But the subplot here is trumped-up & borderline ugly, & it gives a sour flavor to the movie’s homestretch. On balance, though, Easy A is easy to take.

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