A Hester Prynne with attitude
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, September 17, 2010
While "Easy A" may be billed as a modern-day riff on "The Scarlet Letter," the laugh-out-loud entry into the high school comedy genre seems to take just as many cues from the beloved John Hughes oeuvre. Enhanced by a wicked sense of humor, Will Gluck's movie does what Hughes did best, showcasing characters with personality who make you wish you had them on speed dial. After all, who wouldn't want to head to a parade with Ferris Bueller or get stuck in detention with Farmer Ted?
In this case, the charming lead is Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone, of "Superbad" head-butting fame), a girl so clever that even when she's preparing for her first kiss, her chosen boy marvels at how she "talks like a grown-up."
The film opens with Olive broadcasting a confession over the Internet, recounting the sordid episodes that caused her current predicament of friendlessness with a side of bad reputation. It all started with a small lie to get out of camping with her best friend's hippie parents. But her excuse spirals into a tale of "sexy Glade candles" and lost virginity. After that piece of gossip blankets the school (illustrated by some nifty, zippy camerawork reminiscent of "Donnie Darko"), guys she doesn't even know are suddenly bombarding Olive with attention. But when she agrees to help a bullied gay friend by pretending to sleep with him, she learns that there's a thin line between sexy and slutty, and her stock begins to plummet, much to the horror and delight of the school's hypocritical Christians, the Cross Your Heart Club.
As preposterous as the plot may be, the story is bolstered by Bert V. Royal's droll dialogue, the forehead-slapping comedy of errors and a parade of characters overflowing with entertaining quirks. Refreshingly, while Olive is witty, she's no Juno. She doesn't try to be cool. Between her favored brand of comedy (rhyming and puns) and her attempts to sound sexy while talking about anagrams, she is at least as nerdy as she is hip or pretty. Meanwhile, Olive's favorite teacher (Thomas Haden Church) and open-minded parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) each add their own zaniness to the mix and expand the appeal of this flick from teen comedy to all-ages diversion.
Unfortunately, by the last third of the film, it becomes clear that the movie has collected more plot points than it can handle, and some are less believable than others. Despite her growing infamy, our usually astute heroine decides to flaunt her faux-found sexuality with bustier tops emblazoned with an A -- at the expense of her only friendship.
Luckily, in a final nod to Hughes, "Gossip Girl's" Penn Badgley swoops in to save the day, proving he has cornered the market on cerebral cuteness while harking back to the legendary likes of Jake Ryan.
Contains mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and drug material.