Easy A, released in 2010 and starring Emma Stone, gets a not-so-easy B+ in my grade book. It’s kind of like a persuasive essay that is well researched, well-written and overall very smartly done, but has a paragraph that presents the other side rather lamely.
That lame paragraph dings the grade down and stands out pretty harshly because the rest of the essay is just so darned good.
But before we get too deeply into this film, here are the deets:
Easy A (2010)
Written by Bert Royal
Directed by Will Gluck
Starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, Malcolm McDowell, and Lisa Kudrow.
* * * * *
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? And the biggest names are support cast! You can guess that the script is just so good that these folks were probably pretty excited about being in the film. And it’s true– the script is marvelous. From the outset, you need to know that Stanley Tucci steals every scene he is in, and his scenes with Patricia Clarkson, they play Stone’s parents, are gems of dialogue and chemistry.
Emma Stone plays Olive, with Tucci playing Dill, her father, and Clarkson playing Rosemary, her mother. Yes, I got the food thing too. Random?
Olive is pretty much a forgettable high school student who clearly gets along with her excellent family better than anyone else, and so she speaks like an adult. She has never been in trouble, is smarter than most people around her (this is very common of course, given the need to make female protagonists by turns snarky, wise, wry and all around dispensers of wisdom) and is quite lovely. She describes herself thusly: if she were a ten story building and high school boys were Google Earth, they wouldn’t be able to find her.
Olive’s best friend, Rhi (Aly Michalka), is a vivacious and fairly pushy girl who is also apparently quite popular. Interesting dynamic there. Rhi has hippy parents that make Olive uncomfortable, so when Rhi invites Olive along on a family camping trip, Olive declines, saying she has a date with a community college student. This is a fabrication- the first of many.
After the weekend, Rhi becomes convinced that Olive and her fantasy boy had sex, and Olive finally gives in and decides to elaborate on the tale that Rhi is spinning in her own head. The high school’s Sanctimonious Sue, a character called Marianne and played as well as possible by Amanda Bynes, overhears the disclosure/lie, tells Olive she will pay in the eternities, and apparently goes to blab the whole thing to her friends. Rhi probably does the same.
Long story short, the lie gets out fast, and Olive is quickly branded a slut. (Little issue: Really? Would this happen in most high schools where many kids are pretty openly promiscuous?) Olive is briefly bothered by the falsehood being believed, but also starts enjoying the notoriety and attention. She ends up in detention for a moment of open anger in which she uses pretty grody language. During her detention, we meet Brandon (Dan Byrd), a gay boy who is being bullied. He convinces Olive to pretend that he and her hooked up, and from there, Olive becomes the go-to girl for increasing the cred of the school’s outcasts by saying she hooked up with them. Worse, she starts getting paid to push these lies.
This, of course, spins out of control. And in the meantime, Olive, deciding to just roll with it, embraces the idea of wearing a Scarlet Letter, as her English class is reading the Hawthorne book. So she starts wearing horrible and ‘slutty’ outfits (heads up: Emma Stone is a lovely young lady but those clothes look awful on her) and sews a large red A onto the tops of each outfit she wears.
Her family is concerned. Her English teacher gets concerned, thinking she is taking her interest in the book too far. But back to the family. I have to say that I thought the family dynamics were well done. Olive is the oldest; she has a single, adopted brother who happens to be black. The obviousness of his adopted state makes for some excellent dialogue, by the way. So her parents are concerned and they express it. They give Olive time to open up, but let her have her space and make her own decisions, as long as she doesn’t take it too far.
The scene with Olive and her mom on the car should be studied by parents wishing to connect with their teen child. Thank you, Bert Royal, for making real parents who are real people and who are not Juno’s ridiculously stupid and permissive parental units.
Add to all of that mix the sanctimonious and very in-your-face trying-to-save-your-soul and earnest ‘Christian’ girl, Marianne (Bynes). She has a group of other ‘Christian’ kids who, as the story rolls on, get increasingly incensed that Olive the slut is in their midst and they end up trying to get her expelled from school.
Now to review.
The dialogue could carry the film on its own. It’s snappy, smart and real. It has rhythm and soul, like good rock and roll. Olive is a great kid with a sweet heart and she is proactive and gets herself in too deep and we just love her. Stone really nails this performance. She could also carry the film on her own.
The pacing cooks right along, with no 2nd act lag. We have a love interest played by Penn Badgley, who doesn’t do a terrible job, and a world that seems very familiar to people who have been in public high school. (Even for only 1 year. And in a tiny school.)
All in all, the movie is good because it is mostly true.
Now, the story is supposed to be a modern twist on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. This is all well and good, but remember that Hawthorne’s book takes place in a completely religious and puritanical society. It is even theocratic, essentially.
That type of setting cannot be recreated in a realistic and truthful way, apparently, so it appeared that the film decided to abandon the completely religion-permeated society of Hawthorne’s book. And all rang true, except for the artificial antagonist the filmmakers propped up with Amanda Bynes’ character as a born-again, proselyting Christian girl who takes exception to Olive’s purported sluttiness. If the filmmakers were trying to stay true to the book by Hawthorne and make sure there was some religious ostracism, they wasted their time. As I said, Hawthorne’s book comes from a different time and a different society, both real. The Christianity here is not accurate, neither for its time nor for its behavior.
This character and storyline rang artificial and actually like a low blow at students who DO live their religion and try to help others. Seriously folks, have you ever seen a real high-school student do what Marianne does, with her in-your-face damning of people? And have you heard of students protesting the presence of a promiscuous student at their school?
I don’t know why the filmmakers added this artificial storyline and character, and I won’t speculate. But it bothered me, and I am probably a little sensitive to this kind of low-blow.
Content warnings: There is no nudity, although there is plenty of revealing clothing, or non-clothing as it were. Language precisely maximizes its PG-13 rating. And as the movie is essentially about sex, either fabricated or real, it is constantly discussed, as are STDs. Teen drinking is depicted as well, as is a scene wherein a couple make noises as if they were having sex, but they are not.
Pens (writing): 4 (5 without the Christian bashing)
Cameras (acting): 5
Screens (the entire experience): 4.5