Easy A is an unusually smart teen comedy, the film deciphering high school culture in an intriguing and witty fashion. It also boasts a delightful leading performance from Emma Stone, she of Superbad and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past fame. However crippling proceedings somewhat is an intensely jumbled narrative, one filled with far too many subplots and an unnecessary infusion of supporting characters. Easy A is an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half, but a lack of screenwriting discipline renders the final product good rather than great.
After claiming to have lost her virginity to an imaginary college student, Olive (Emma Stone) finds her reputation flipped from good gal to super slut in a matter of days. Olive takes to her fresh persona with surprising gusto, appreciating the newfound attention from her peers. In order to maintain the skanky illusion, Olive decides to help some of her less socially fortunate male classmates, by allowing them to claim they’ve slept with her. However the lies catch up fast, as self professed hardcore Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes) decides to lead a student uprising against what she perceives as whorish behaviour, an event that leaves Olive isolated, and many others hurt by her questionable actions.
Emma Stone is magnificent in Easy A, the actress exhibiting a raw likability and sly comedic touch that only the most gifted performers can harness. Despite some of the character’s more suspect decisions the audience remains warm toward Olive for the movie’s duration, a fact completely indebted to Stone’s outstandingly charismatic turn. Easy A doesn’t paint Olive as an ugly duckling at any point, instead depicting her more as another fish in an overstuffed pond. This marks a refreshing change of pace from the genre norm, because nobody as pretty and communicative as Stone would ever end up at the bottom of a high school food chain. Instead the film focuses on her desire to be viewed as more than just background noise amongst the other kids.
The supporting players are all quite enjoyable, but they’re far too numerous. The key participants are Bynes’ bible bashing Marianne (good for a few laughs but disappointingly underdeveloped), Thomas Haden Church’s offbeat but cool teacher (quietly effective), his shrill and oddly complex guidance counsellor wife (solidly portrayed by Lisa Kudrow) and a one dimensional but amply charming love interest for Olive in Penn Badgley. All of these folks get at least a handful of minutes to leave their mark on the picture, but stacks of others just flutter in and out without so much as a whimper. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson do their best as Olive’s quirky and affectionate parents, whilst Malcolm McDowell gets at least one uproarious line as the school’s principal. However hoards of fellow youngsters sift in and out of the film with no consistency or depth, leaving a host of familiar faces with little of any worth to do.
The movie tells the story through Olive’s reminiscences of her ordeal, screenwriter Bert V. Royal avoiding the conventional narrative templates that tend to haunt the genre. Easy A is definitely more amusing than your average Hollywood comedy, the film peppered with some terrifically insightful and clever verbal jousting. Of course there are some less ambitious gags on hand as well, but even these broader moments have a habit of passing muster on the back of Stone’s cheerful performance. The problem with the script happens to be that it packs far too much in, Easy A would have benefitted from a leaner running time. Both Royal and director Will Gluck must shoulder the blame on this one, tighter writing and a more discriminating touch in the editing process would have improved the picture equally. The movie fires off an excessive number of unwarranted story arcs, several of which are simply not given a satisfactory denouement.
Easy A dissects some of the more uncomfortable habits that pollute the high school mindset; a great sequence following a well staged bout of fake intercourse examines the different gender perceptions of casual sex rather intelligently. The crowd accepts the male contingent as a stud, but the girl is left to endure judgemental stares and an invisible sign reading floozy scrawled above her head. Mature little touches like this render “Easy A” more valuable than most of its genre counterparts.
Will Gluck may oversee the plotting in a rather clunky fashion, but he has a sharp eye for comic mischief and photographs the film quite attractively. Easy A is a well intentioned and fairly rewarding watch, which despite its structural flaws still provides a hearty dose of fun. I doubt it will have the shelf life as Mean Girls, Heathers or the various John Hughes directed classics it references, but Easy A warrants a credible recommendation none the less.
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Bert V. Royal
Cast: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Alyson Michalka, Stanley Tucci
Runtime: 92 minutes