Easy A (2010): United States – directed by Will Gluck
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains language, sexual content
Easy A has been compared to Mean Girls quite favorably, something the marketing squad at Screen Gems most likely does not mind. After all, Mean Girls was smart and witty, and had a heart; rare ingredients for a teen comedy. And while Easy A is not quite on the level of Mean Girls, it is often smart, sometimes witty, and eventually finds its heart.
The story is explained in the first few minutes as a modern day take on The Scarlet Letter. Olive (Emma Stone) is narrating her story to a webcam, explaining how her life ended up as it is now. Most of the film is spent exploring her story, the story of how Olive became the most infamous slut at Ojai North High School.
Olive lives in Ojai, California, and goes to a fairly normal high school. She is a self-described invisible girl. No one knows who she is, but she is bright enough to keep track of everyone she’s gone to school with since elementary school. And then one day, for no particular reason, she starts a little lie that spreads like wildfire and soon begins to consume her life.
She tells her best friend, Rhi (Aly Michalka), that she spend the weekend with a boy from a local community college. This little lie was supposed to get her out of camping with Rhi’s nudist/hippy mother and father, but soon backfires. There’s another girl in the bathroom while the secret is spilt. Marianne (Amanda Bynes) is the leader of the school Jesus Freaks, always out to save souls and pray for sinners. Soon enough she is attempting to save Olive from her slutty ways, all the while spreading the lie around like the Spanish flu.
Pretty soon Olive is the school slut. Things only get worse when her gay acquaintance Brandon (Dan Byrd) asks her to have pretend sex with her so that he’ll stop being harassed long enough to graduate without committing suicide. Her kind heart leads to her acquiescence, and the alleged tryst is a success. Soon she’s approached by all the nerds and dweebs in the school looking for a boost to their own social life, and she becomes a bizarre kind of prostitute (receiving gift cards while only her reputation takes the hit).
Until this point the film is interesting, but not particularly grand. High school life is adequately portrayed for the 21st century, and while the writing and performances aren’t comparable to the best recent teen comedies (Mean Girls and Juno [review here] come to mind), they are effective. Then Olive’s family is introduced, and the film becomes far more interesting. Her father (Stanley Tucci, in the best role of the film) and mother (Patricia Clarkson as an aging but empathetic hippy type) are open-minded and hip, the kind of parents that must only exist in the movies or California. Olive’s brother (Bryce Clyde Jenkins) is adopted and black, leading to some humorous familial repartee on the part of their father. It is never discussed whether Olive is adopted, but she most likely is because her parents say they are infertile.
While Olive’s unique parents add another level of enjoyment to the film, it doesn’t find its heart until Olive’s actions start to have real-life consequences. Her favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) is married to the guidance counselor, Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow). Once certain indiscretions are brought to light Mrs. Griffith has an odd and emotional scene, and it becomes apparent that the film actually cares about the mental and emotional health and the fate of its characters. Once this has been established it becomes safe for Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgley) to become a more important part of the film as Olive’s only true friend.
There are some stereotypes perpetuated by Easy A, such as the one-sided and bigoted Christian girl (and her Jesus freak friends), and while no issue is made of a gay character, some of his actions and phrases approach caricature. But the film succeeds primarily because Olive starts to realize how much of a mess she has made, and starts to see the effects of her lies on people she cares about. The film remains humorous, never becoming morose or profound, but becomes more realistic and effective.
I was slightly let down until about a third of the way in, when Olive’s parents started rescuing the film. Once the film switches into recovery mode (where Olive learns from her mistakes) it becomes more appropriate, exhibiting values that more teen films ought to have. It’s refreshing to see a film that discusses certain issues more openly and honestly than most movies attempt, and even if it doesn’t hit all the right notes it is a step in the right direction. A last minute throwaway line that leaves open the possibility of losing one’s virginity on one’s wedding night is great, if only because it proposes that such a life choice is an option. There is much to appreciate about Easy A, even if it isn’t always laugh-out-loud funny or incisively witty and truthful.