Easy A

a film by Will Gluck

I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is to see a modern-day comedy that is as witty and as intelligent as Easy A is. A film that, instead of talking down to its audience (or in many cases talking well below them), treats us/them/we as a fairly intelligent crowd who would much rather laugh at literary humour and pop culture pastiche than at the rampant run of dick jokes and frat boy humour so prevalent in today's comedies - essentially raising the bar on smartly written modern comedy. Of course such a film is definitely more than atypical in this day and age (so many still flock to that aforementioned frat boy, dick joke type of comedy) but for those of us who enjoy such things (that fairly intelligent crowd I spoke of earlier) the release of Easy A is indeed (to paraphrase one of the movies invoked in the film) a banner day in all our households.

Taking The Scarlet Letter as its starting point (though a freely adapted modern version of the story, it still fares better than the infamous Demi Moore production - which is freely and openly maligned by several characters within this story) Easy A tells the seeming innocuous tale of Olive Penderghast, a high school virgin (played with a perfect concoction of hipster angst and genuine old school charm by Emma Stone - but more on her later) who, through mistakenly overheard happenstance, becomes the insta-whore of the high school campus. Here is where most filmmakers would take the low road, and thus create a typical post-millennial teen comedy, full of some sort of American Pie-esque sex farce. I suppose that would be the most common road to take - considering the mass appeal of such humour, but not here. Instead of that road, director Will Gluck decides to give his audience one of the most smartly written comedies of the last twenty years.

On par with films such as Clueless and Mean Girls (as well as the oft-overlooked but quite enjoyable 10 Things I Hate About You), Gluck's film takes the high school comedy and turns it on its head. Harking back to the eighties and its seeming endless pool of teen comedies (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Say Anything are all invoked by Olive as being the dreamworld she wishes would some day come true for her) Easy A plays like an old-fashioned story within a modern-day milieu - blending the innocence of yesteryear (oddly enough in a movie with sex as the main focus) with the snark of today. But then I have pretty much beaten this dead horse of surprisingly welcome intelligence within typical modern times trash enough already (yeah, it's smart and witty and all that jazz, but what's it all about?) so let us move on to the real meat of the story.

As stated above, Easy A is the story of Olive Penderghast and her sudden (and quite misinformed) thrust into high school whoredom. With newly formed bad reputation in tow (and yes, the Joan Jett song is on the soundtrack - covered here by the Dollrots) Olive decides to help out her gay friend by "acting out" a sexual encounter between the two behind the locked (but with everyone's ears pressed against) door at a high school party. Once his reputation is sealed, the geeks come out of the woodwork to get in on Olive's little pseudo-prostitution ring. After becoming ostracized by most of the school (with much help from a Jesus freak goody-good played by Amanda Bynes) Olive's world begins to fall apart. I don't remember my high school being so damned sanctimonious a quarter of a century ago (though I don't recall any fellow student with the reputation that Olive ends up getting either) but perhaps the age of the tea party has conservatized our usually misbegotten youth. Whatever the case, high school becomes a sudden Hell for Olive, yet she takes charge of her own reputation and plays it to the proverbial high hills.

Beginning to come to school dressed-to-the-nines in the sluttiest clothes her school dress code will allow, and with the aforementioned scarlet A sewn onto each and every outfit, Olive is now the talk of the proverbial town. Perhaps the film does exist in that "perfect" dreamworld of eighties teen comedies (the ones this critic grew up on!) where everything, good and bad, happens in the most perfect manner (again, invoking the aesthetics of these very same eighties teen comedies) but it is in this healthy dreamworld that the film shines as a sort of meta-satire. Olive as supposed adulterous skank and protype for a new kind of prostitution - one that allows a girl to stay chaste (and rather suspectedly innocent in the ways of the world) and still line her pockets with gift cards (in lieu of the usual cash) to everything from the Lobster Shack to Autozone (and even a coupon from one particualrly sheap client). And Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland, as well as the upcoming 21 Jump Street movie) plays the part of the scarlet letter adorned homewrecker (and yes, high school virgin or not, she gains this moniker as well) with an aplomb akin to an A-bomb.

Stone, wrongfully given the moniker of "the next Lindsay Lohan" (a media-made descriptive that is at best a misguided misnomer and at worst a down right insult to this spirited young actress) has a pitch perfect sense of comic timing and proves it throughout this film. This sexy, husky-voiced redhead takes every line (written by Bert V. Royal - perhaps as the acerbic antidote to the annoyingly angsty Diablo Cody) and swings for the bleachers. The film is chock full of great comic performances - Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's practically perfect parents (idealized to hilarious degree), Thomas Haden Church as that "cool" teacher that everyone likes (a mélange of best bud and respected authority figure) and Lisa Kudrow (in a role that demands an Oscar campaign come December) as the guidance counselor who ends up more fucked up than any of her students - but it is Stone, and her freckled winsome face and sharp sassy tongue that brings it all home. Listing Gilda Radner as her hero, Stone personifies that sexy-nerd type of comedy that early SNL propagated and it is great to see her finally be able to showcase that talent only whispered at hitherto.

Replete with innuendo and a wry sense of humour - as well as a musical number thrown in for no apparent reason (just like Olive's dreamworld Ferris Bueller) - Easy A would, in my best Gene Shalit voice, get a solid A from this critic (if this critic were to give letter grades that is). Seriously though, Will Gluck's smart direction, Bert V. Royal's even smarter screenwriting and Emma Stone's near brilliant performance as the titular modern-day Hester Prynne (but not the Demi Moore version!!) make for a most surprisingly enjoyable teen comedy. Who woulda thunk it? [09/29/10]