Emma Stone could make a four-hour reading of her high school yearbook entertaining. The talented young comedienne has long been ready for her close-up, but she’s often left on the sidelines to offer up memorable supporting performances in films such as Superbad, The House Bunny and Zombieland, She’s this generation’s next best hope for a lovable comic lead actress; a veritable Tina Fey in the making (with already a more impressive filmography). Easy A is her first real vehicle – and it really is her vehicle. Will Gluck’s frothy teen comedy is perfectly pleasant, and features a charming supporting cast. But nothing can quite compare to the film’s effervescent, red-headed starlet.
Stone stars as Olive Penderghast, a too-smart-to-be-popular student at a Californian public college. She’s tired of being ignored by the crowd – wait, in which sick, alternate universe would Emma Stone be ignored? – and “accidentally” starts a rumour about a weekend tryst with an anonymous suitor. The rumour spreads around the school like wildfire, as rumours are wont to do, and she develops a reputation as the school harlot. She welcomes the unflattering attention, because well, it’s attention.
Meanwhile, Brandon (Dan Byrd) is having a hard time coming out of the closet to his fellow classmates, who are expressing their disgust by beating him up (which to me screams “latent!” but whatever). Olive and Brandon agree to stage a faux-fling at a party, thus fooling their not-so-bright peers into thinking that Brandon is straight and saving him from further beatings. The scam works, and she’s soon flooded with requests from unappealing fellows also eager to boost their reputation with a fictional night at “the Olive garden”. Maybe the instant popularity goes to her head, or maybe she’s just sick of her holier-than-thou classmate Marianne (Amanda Bynes) decrying her promiscuity, but Olive is inspired to take a note out of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (literal) book and stitch a scarlet letter to her clothes.
Easy A carries on the grand tradition of high school films based upon classic works of literature (see also: 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless and Cruel Intentions). Bert V. Royal’s screenplay is inspired by Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, in which an adulteress is forced to repent publicly and wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her gown as a badge of shame. Olive is hardly ashamed of her ‘A’, but then again, she’s not really giving it away – daily, nightly or ever so rightly. Royal’s script landed on the Black List in 2008 – a selection of the ‘most liked’ unproduced screenplays in Hollywood selected by executives and high-level assistants. I don’t know if the script is that good; although, I’m not sure how prestigious or trustworthy a ‘most liked’ list is anyway. It’s a little too reliant on Olive’s narration; and as charming as Stone is, it makes the plot feel rather slapdash and poorly strung together.
Thank goodness then for Stone and her co-stars, who make the experience more than worthwhile. Olive is like Juno’s less snarky older sister, and she makes a potentially unlikable character perfectly enchanting. It’s no surprise her whip-smart, terribly inappropriate, intensely wise and wonderfully funny parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) would produce such a wonderful progeny. Special mention also goes to Penn Badgley as Todd, a romantic lead that is as funny and amiable as Ms Stone (trust me; it’s a rare treat in a modern rom-com to have two likable stars). Thomas Haden Church is also fun as cool teacher Mr. Griffith (he’s the English professor you wish you had).
Easy A may not be as funny as Mean Girls, as biting as Election, or as brilliantly insightful as Ghost World or Superbad, but it is what it is: a temporary calling card for Emma Stone while she establishes herself as a household name. Easy A may end up being merely a blip in her sure-to-be-stellar filmography, but few actors can claim to have carried such an enjoyable little flick this early in their career.