Easy A

Easy A

***1/2

Reviewed by: David Graham

High-school teen movies have always had an appeal which transcends easy 'chick-flick' pigeonholing: from John Hughes' string of Eighties classics to more recent standouts like Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You and Mean Girls, they're the sort of films that guys can enjoy (however guiltily) as much as girls. They also often have roots in classic literature (Austen, Shakespeare), which adds depth and allows the plots to be slyly subversive. Easy A strives to uphold these traditions, taking Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as the very literal catalyst for its central character's misguided actions.

Olive Penderghast is a bright, attractive teenager, with a loving if unconventional family and a comfortable but not exactly prominent place in her high school's pecking order. A little white lie about her weekend exploits soon snowballs to become accepted student lore, landing her instant infamy and a level of attention that she dubiously enjoys. When a proposition from a fellow student leads to a public performance of a very vocal sexual encounter, Olive finds herself inundated with requests from similarly downtrodden boys, setting in motion a chain of events which jeopardises everything she holds dear.

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Olive's a sucker for a sob story, to a fault, and while this initially makes her appealing, it does become something of a weakness - to herself and us - as the lies multiply. She's a little too passive in some of the situations she finds herself in, her initial self-empowerment turning to accepted exploitation at the hands of others. The script sends out so many mixed messages here that her eventual redemption is a little hard to swallow, but to its credit, not everything is glossed over and neatly tied up.

Emma Stone really holds the film together, an immensely likable lead even when things get a little too indulgent. Her charming lisp, husky voice and expressive features make her stand out from the crowd of current young actresses: as she previously proved in Superbad and Zombieland, she's much more than just another pretty face. She's able to go from self-deprecating to righteous at the tip of a hat, her acerbic wit always shining through, and she really impresses during some of the later emotional scenes.

The film adds some pleasingly absurd lingo to the teen movie lexicon, and serves up plenty of cheeky innuendo, but also frustratingly falls back on several characters repeating lines or words over and over again in a desperate attempt to raise a laugh - a shudder or cringe is sadly more often than not the result. Some of the highly talented supporting adults veer too close to cutesiness, with Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as impossibly quirky parents and Thomas Haden Church a laconically creepy English teacher. Lisa Kudrow makes a strong impression with a sadly underwritten role, her character's presumption and dilemmas making her an unpredictable presence deserving of more screen time.

Stone is offered some worthwhile support from her peers, though. Amanda Bynes is amusingly unhinged as Olive's pious opposition, and Alyson Michalka makes a delightfully ditzy best pal, while Dan Byrd sells his character's dilemma only to disappear into social acceptance all too suddenly. Their individual situations raise issues of sexuality, religion, self-worth and loyalty, but most of these are skirted around without really penetrating the subjects.

Olive is left like an agony aunt who is being judged by her readers, and while the script is to be commended for taking her initial 'no such thing as bad publicity' attitude seriously as well as really hammering home how upsetting a tarnished reputation can be, it takes the audience to some places that fit a little uncomfortably with the breezy tone of the film. Mental and verbal prostitution is a bitter pill to swallow as subject matter for a movie like this, especially when it involves such blatant brand-pushing played for ironic laughs (Olive is primarily paid in gift cards and vouchers).

The webcam narration is an interesting and topical device, being both confessional and confronting for the characters. Will Gluck's directorial style is also highly effective, with scenes of gossip spreading in fast-forward and Olive's initial faked fornication managing to be entertaining while also being surprisingly perceptive. Despite the 15 certificate, however, it's never as furiously funny as Mean Girls, and Olive's love interest is sketched in such shallow detail (being the one who got this whole cycle of pretend-encounters rolling) that it's hard to care whether or not they eventually get together.

The links to The Scarlet Letter are clearly meant to be subversive, but are at best spurious, especially since none of Olive's imagined frolics can be described as adultery. The film does have a good heart, though, and it makes for an effortlessly enjoyable, if thornier than expected, experience. Let's just hope the hugely talented Stone doesn't go the way Lindsay Lohan did after her similarly starmaking turn six years ago.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2010
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Easy A packshot
Modern take on The Scarlet Letter, sees a high school student use rumours to advance herself.
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Director: Will Gluck

Writer: Bert V. Royal

Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson

Year: 2010

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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