21-year old Emma Stone has proven herself to be quite the young actress. She has commendable acting chops, good looks and an undeniable flair that makes you immediately like her. But as appealing as she is, she does not really have anything to call her ‘breakout performance.’ She has stole entire scenes with bit roles in movies like “Superbad,” “Zombieland” and “The House Bunny,” but does Stone have the allure to carry the weight of an entire film?
“Easy A” just might be the film that thrusts her from reliable actress to leading lady status. Aside from having great comic timing and deadpan deliverance, this movie showcases her range of acting very nicely. As a matter of fact, nearly everyone in the film manages to make the most of their quirky and exaggerated roles, major or minor. But aside from the humor coming in at all directions from the cast, the characters are not an afterthought; you actually feel sympathy and, to a degree, relate to their motivations and root for them.
Stone plays a high-school student named Olive Penderghast, an extraordinarily smart and free-thinking individual who acquires a brand new reputation after word gets out that she lost her virginity on a date. In reality, she just used that as an excuse to get out of a weekend with her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), whose parents…let’s just say, have strange habits. She didn’t even actually have a date to begin with. But her new reputation gains her some outcast friends who ask her to make them popular as well by saying she had sex with them. This tactic soon becomes a business for Olive when she starts getting paid with gift cards to various outlets.
She also gains a few enemies in the process. Specifically the school’s teenaged fundamentalist Christian group led by a self-righteous pastor’s daughter named Marianne (Amanda Bynes). This girl is tireless in her efforts to shove her morals in Olive’s face, throw slanderous remarks around every corner and just blatantly try to make her feel miserable for her indecent behavior. Ironically, Olive’s English class happens to be going over Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter at the time all of this is happening. In order to get a rise out of people as well as milk this new image she is receiving, the book inspires her to embroider a scarlet letter ‘A’ (for adulterer) on all her clothing. “If you ever get tested on The Scarlet Letter,” says Olive, “just rent the movie. The original. Not the one with Demi Moore; the one where she has a bunch of bath scenes and does a bad British accent.”
Most of what makes “Easy A” work is the offbeat mishmash of the delightfully kooky and likeable characters and the atypical level of smart writing. Just the parallels between Olive’s situation and The Scarlet Letter proves my point. The viewer is also treated to some smaller roles from celebrities that are comical as well, such as Thomas Haden Church as the school English teacher, Lisa Kudrow as his wife, the school’s promiscuous guidance counselor and Malcolm McDowell as the school’s principle, among others. I personally got a big kick out of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s loving (yet implausibly lenient and open-minded) parents.
The film’s script is much more advanced than one might think upon first glance. When there is not a one-liner being uttered, there is a good bit of acidic (though very funny) social satire. The film takes numerous and plentiful shots at numerous and plentiful targets, but is not overtly mean-spirited toward said targets. Sure, its depictions of them seem pretty harsh, but it in a way states how every organization and clique is severely flawed and far from perfect in their judgment. Besides, everybody has to have a good laugh at themselves sometimes. The real joke is the large scale of consequences (both good and bad) that erupt out of just one tiny rumor that seems to get around within meager seconds of its unveiling.
That is not to say that the film is perfect. In fact, it is far from it. The last third slows down very quickly and seems to end with a fizzle instead of a bang (unlike Olive states toward the end), making a brisk 92 minutes feel something like two hours. I wonder if it was just the fact that I had grown accustomed to the direction it was taking by that point. However, there is enough in “Easy A” that unexpectedly fascinated me and I believe it is a pleasant start for Emma Stone in her path to success as a lead.
In the end, “Easy A” gets a solid B from me.