Directed by: Will Gluck
Starring: Emma Stone, Alyson Michalka, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Hayden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material
Not everyone found high school to be a particular kind of hell, but a lot of us did. Plenty of people felt invisible, or picked on because they were all-too-visible, or shamed for things they didn’t do, or any of a host of other miseries that made (or make) high school a daily submersion in fire and brimstone. “Easy A” has just the right proportions of realism and wish-fulfillment, and is suffused with a delightfully clever wit that dances right up to but never crosses over into self-indulgence.
The film’s conceit is that it’s a webcast by Olive (Emma Stone), a once-invisible and clean-cut student now widely believed to be prostituting herself to all comers. She wants to tell her side of the story, to set the record straight. Stone is perfect for the part — in the grand tradition of high school flicks, she’s in her early twenties but fits into Olive’s mature, snarky shoes like they were made for her. Even when Olive is doing something unwise, Stone makes her likeable and sympathetic.
Olive’s descent into infamy begins when she lies to her overbearing friend Rhi (Alyson Michalka) and creates a detailed account of losing her virginity instead of admitting she spent a weekend at home alone. Their conversation is overheard by the holier-than-thou head of the school’s Christian club, Marianne (Amanda Bynes), who proceeds to spread it all over school. Suddenly people are noticing Olive, and even if it’s not for a factual reason, it’s a welcome change. When her friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) begs her to essentially do the same thing for him, and pretend that they slept together so he can convince the jocks of the school he’s straight and get them to quit beating him up, she gives in.
Marianne and her friends are scandalized, and begin a campaign to ostracize her. A snide remark during a class discussion of “The Scarlet Letter” leads Olive to acquire an appropriately revealing wardrobe and sew red “A”s on all her new tops. When Brandon tells one of the other outcasts what really happened between him and Olive, word starts to get around among the outsiders and soon they’re all coming to her for the same treatment, offering payment for permission to say they fooled around with her as a way to raise their social standing. Things begin to spiral out of control as Olive’s actions make some students adore her and some hate her, and she finds she can’t control the rumor mill in the slightest.
The adults in the film are drawn in even broader strokes than the high schoolers — Olive’s parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) are impossibly fantastic, her favorite teacher (Thomas Hayden Church) is both dorky and super awesome, and the villainous grownups are incredibly evil. But this is a high school movie, a genre not exactly known for nuance.
Where the film is realistic is in the atmosphere of Olive’s school. Although it’s punched up a bit for the film, the underlying feelings are spot-on. Olive’s campaign to help losers get better status and her complete refusal to buckle under pressure from the Christian club make her a wish-fulfillment heroine for anybody who’s ever felt invisible or picked on. Even though things get out of hand and the ultimate lesson is that lying to manipulate crowds is a quick way to make yourself miserable, she’s a smart, strong gal who is clever enough to find a way out of the situation she’s gotten herself into without abdicating any of the responsibility for what she did.
Whether you’ll enjoy “Easy A” or not is pretty easy to figure out. Did the previews make you both laugh and wince in sympathy? Do you get nostalgic for 80s teen movies, but also snark about their silliness? If so, go see it. If you’re looking for nuance and total realism or thought high school was the best time of your life, you should probably stay away.