Directed by: Will Gluck (Fired Up!)
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson
What a delightful surprise! Actually, Easy A is a little treasure trove of surprises in that it offers the first solid high-school-centered comedy since Mean Girls (2004). The movie establishes Emma Stone as a star, and it even proves that Cam Gigandet is fine if cast as a hot guy with the intellect of a bewildered boll weevil. That’s a pretty darn good set of accomplishments. In many respects, Easy A can be seen as a more intelligent variation on Mean Girls—and Mean Girls was far from stupid. Easy A has a little more edge and works on the assumption that the viewer actually might know something and can follow a running gag about Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn over the course of a movie without beating you over the head with it.
Stone plays Olive, a savvy but sexually unprecocious high-school girl, who inadvertently starts the rumor that she has “lost her v-card” after she tells her best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka, Bandslam), a made-up rooty-tooty story in the girls’ room about how she spent a boring weekend. Unfortunately, Olive doesn’t realize that while she’s telling her tale judgmental über-Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes, Hairspray) is hiding in a bathroom stall. Naturally, Marianne loses no time in passing the story on to the entire school. Suddenly, Olive goes from being the school nonentity to an object of extreme interest.
Interest skyrockets when Olive agrees to appear to have—or at least sound like she is having—sex with her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd, TV’s Cougar Town), who desperately wants to put an end to being taunted about his sexuality. Soon Olive finds there are other “misfit” boys who would like the illusion of her services—and are willing to pay for them. Since her reputation is already in tatters, she sees no reason not to help the boys, and models herself after Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter (as depicted by Lillian Gish in the 1926 silent, not—as Olive cautions—the 1995 Demi Moore version). The big difference is that Olive embroiders her scarlet A on outfits that are straight out of a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog, playing her utterly fictional bad-girl image to the hilt.
This is a hard movie to write about without giving away too much. The film offers constant surprisingly clever turns and often surprisingly penetrating observations that definitely don’t need spoiling. Likening it to Juno (2007), as some have done, actually misses the point, but Juno has become the buzzword for any movie where characters say more clever things than people tend to in real life—something that’s pretty essential in comedy that doesn’t operate as “stupid comedy.” The parents here—splendidly played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci—are like the parents in Juno only in the sense that they’re supportive. Otherwise, they’re very different creations. And Stone’s Olive is no Juno.
Considering how awful director Will Gluck’s previous film, Fired Up! (2009), was, it’s easy to want to give a large part of the credit to newcomer screenwriter Bert V. Royal. While Royal’s screenplay is very, very fine, movies this good don’t just happen without a strong director—and since Gluck also functioned as producer, he had a lot of control on the project. The whole point, however, is that this isn’t just the sharpest high-school comedy in years, it’s also the funniest movie of any kind in 2010 so far. I never would have imagined that I’d get the biggest laugh of the year out of a well-placed cutaway to Rex Ingram, as Jim in the 1939 Huckleberry Finn, delivering a perfectly innocent line, which becomes anything but in this context. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material.