Emma Stone as Olive
Penn Badgley as Woodchuck Todd
Amanda Bynes as Marianne
Alyson Michalka as Rhiannon
Thomas Haden Church as Mr. Griffith
Lisa Kudrow as Mrs. Griffith
Stanley Tucci as Dill
Miranda Richardson as Rosemary
Dan Byrd as Brandon
Cam Gigadent as Micah
Malcolm McDowell as Principal Gibbons
We were all (or will be) teenagers once. I assume. I usually don’t like to do that, but I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground on this one. Because we’ve all been there, it makes it ripe ground for writers to romanticize, philosophize, and otherwise blow out of proportion. The fact that most paying theater goers are in or just out of high school has nothing do with why so many are getting made, I’m sure. It makes the genre all too easy to be done all too badly.
So it’s easy to see how something similar could have happened to “Easy A;” a story about a good girl (Emma Stone) who, while trying to blow off her friend’s incessant questioning about her virginity, accidentally and quickly develops a reputation as the school tramp.
Ordinarily this would be a decent set up for a bad John Hughes pastiche filled with overly knowing dialogue, cheap angst and too much reliance on unearned emotion in a quest for easy fantasy and pathos. “Easy A’ has the dialogue but the rest of it is refreshingly endearing.
And mainly because it is refreshingly free of angst, even when it gets genuinely dramatic, most of which is down to how well conceived and performed Olive is. She is a genuinely good person, the kind of teenager parents hope to have. She has her concerns about popularity and desirability, but she’s not consumed by it. She’s snarky and a little too smart for the people around her, but never intentionally mean. It’s a tough balance to maintain and Stone pulls it off in style.
Initially choosing to ignore, as much as possible, the rumors swirling around her, Olive soon discovers she has chance to help herself and some of the other less popular members of the student body when she begins to get paid to use her new reputation to convince the school she is sleeping with the unpopular.
It’s all a giant case of good intentions gone badly wrong, and it works because Stone plays off both the impulse to help people around her and the growing realization of how the world views her because of it.
It helps that she’s assisted by an excellent supporting cast, especially the adults. If Olive is the teenager every parent wants, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are the parents every teenager wants. They’re funny and trusting and supportive and very charming. Thomas Hayden Church’s English teacher, who gives Olive the idea to mimic The Scarlett Letter’s Hester Prynne in a 21st Century vein, comes a close second.
However, there is quite a bit of quiet suffering put up by Olive, the kind every teenager feels they endure but she puts up with it with a great deal of charm. It helps that the filmmakers make some effort to make her antagonists, especially the stuck up Christian princess of the school (Amanda Bynes), more than just cardboard cut outs.
Which isn’t to say everyone is given substance. A lot of characters are there just to provide an easy joke, especially with some of the film’s potshots at religion. Still, charm really is the name of the game and director Will Gluck (“Fired Up”) plays it light throughout. The only shame is he can’t quite keep it up. While a lot of the natural teenager instincts are played for laughs or given a patina of humanism, the ending falls apart a little bit.
The entire story is told as a modern epistolary, with Olive narrating throughout the film in a webcast designed to explain her actions, which requires the audience to go along with the very teenager cliché about being the actual star of the movie of their life (particularly in the way everyone, whether they realize it or not, must be fascinated in every moment of their life). That, combined with a clumsy musical number, results in a climax that has no momentum or confrontation.
It’s too bad that “Easy A” takes the easy way out as it has so much going for it as it heads into its finale. The weak conclusion is probably the only real problem it has, which hurts because the conclusion is what we take away most immediately, but considering how good the rest of the film is it’s not that bad. It’s so rare to get a teenager-focused film that doesn’t just repeat clichés and stereotypes that getting one which actively challenges the practice is worth whatever mistakes are made.