Thanks to the combination of a clever screenplay by Bert V. Royal and charismatic performance by Emma Stone, Easy A is an engaging, winning entry into what has become tired genre, the teen comedy.
Stone plays Olive Penderghast, the type of high school student who goes largely unnoticed by her peers. Rather than spend a weekend camping out with her friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) and said friends freaky hippie parents, and too embarrassed to admit she spent a whole weekend at home alone, she invents a story about spending the weekend with a non-existent boyfriend and losing her virginity in the process. It seems win-win; she gets some peace and quiet, scores some social cred, and the dude supposedly goes to community college, so who’s to know?
Unfortunately, Marianne (Amanda Bynes), the overbearing leader of the school’s prayer group, overhears the conversation and makes Olive the center of a morality crusade. References to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter—to which Easy A it owes about as much as The Lion King does to Hamlet—start to abound, including a couple of shout-outs to the notorious 1995 movie version best know for Demi Moore “taking a lot of baths”.
Ironically, Marianne’s persecution only boosts Olive’s newfound career as a fictitious tramp. She begins wearing more provactive clothes, each ensemble bearing a large red “A” sewn on for her amusement. Having lost one reputation but gained another, Olive is quickly befirended by Brandon (Dan Byrd), a gay student who’s tired of being hassled; he convinces Olive to pose as his lover long enough to change his own standing at the school. (Their faked tryst at a raging kegger is one of the movie’s high points.) Before long, she’s a virtual prostitute attesting to the manhood of the most socially challenged students at East Ojai High School in exchange for gift cards. She enjoys the attention at first, but the accompanying notoriety achieves terminal velocity before long.
It’s the sort of chain of events that could only exist in Movie Comedy Land, but it works because it starts out smart and funny and stays that way. Stone carries the movie remarkably well for such a young actress, establishing herself as a comedy leading lady on the rise, and is well-supported by a cast that includes Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s loopy but loving parents, Thomas Hayden Church as the English teacher who assigned Olive’s class The Scarlet Letter, Lisa Kudrow as his guidance counselor wife (who really shouldn’t be handing out advice of any sort), and Malcolm McDowell as the beleagured school principal who only strives to “keep the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe”.
But it’s Stone’s show all the way, and she gets to be smart, sexy, vulnerable, and funny throughout.