Judging from the cinematic output of the United States, the national pastime of the school populace is either trying to lose one’s virginity, talking about losing it or having lost it. Over the last decade or so, from the smash hits of the American Pie series to just about anything with Michael Cera in it (including the recent and pedestrian Youth in Revolt), screenwriters have been outpouring their tales of putting out. There is certainly nothing new about this wave of cinema, which goes back at least as far as the John Hughes films of the 1980s. However, nothing has really taken an original look at the genre for quite some time. Easy A may just break that track record.
Olive (Emma Stone, Zombieland) is a fairly invisible student at her high school. Wanting to spend a quiet weekend alone, Olive lies to her best friend and tells her that she lost her virginity to an older college student. Unfortunately, they are overheard by the pious Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes, Hairspray), who spreads the word around the corridors faster than an Internet meme. Although somewhat annoyed by the condescending attitude if the god squad, Olive revels in her newfound attention and plays up to it. Her troubles begin when she agrees to pretend to sleep with gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) and perhaps stop the bullying at school, but this turns into a cottage industry when others find out what Olive is willing to do for the underdogs. Buying a whole new outrageous wardrobe and embroidering a red ‘A’ on her outfits (as a nod to The Scarlet Letter, which they are reading in class), Olive soon begins to learn what getting a reputation means and how fickle the bonds of friendship can be when they are put to the test.
Easy A breaks from some of the traditions of the high school sex comedy by not really being about an attempt to lose one’s virginity, but rather restoring a reputation lost as a result of allegedly doing so. Instantly recognizing the inherent contradiction in a society that elevates sexually active men as studs, and trashes promiscuous women as ‘sluts’, the schoolyard here is almost a microcosmic proxy for the tabloid media that rewards and punishes the behaviour of people the world over, building and destroying reputations in the process. To borrow a parable from another recent film about reputation, the Academy Award nominated Doubt, rumours are like feathers: once they are released, they are very hard to gather up again. Easy A doesn’t dissect this dichotomy with any great depth, but it recognises the power of misinformation in a globalised world through using the web as a major narrative device and the delivery method of the final message.
Emma Stone is the real gem of the film, and if she is not the breakout star of the year then there is no justice in the world. At the time of writing, Stone has just been offered the role of Mary-Jane Parker in the rebooted Spider-man film due out in 2012. As demonstrated earlier in Zombieland, Stone has a real sense of comic timing that is not often found in folk her age, and she delivers some fantastic dialogue (via writer Bert V. Royal) at a machine gun speed reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, despite the shop-front of the racy topic, the film has a very old-fashioned sensibility to it that gives the movie a sweetness at its core. Some of the characterisation may be a little too simplistic – Olive’s parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) are too good to be true and her favourite teacher (Thomas Haden Church, Spider-man 3) is someone we all would have liked to have in front of our classes (instead of an embittered former priest) in our day. Worse still, while the film makes a few great jibes at the role of religion in America, the stereotypical portrayal of the bible bashers is not doing it any favours.
Yet these are minor quibbles, with Easy A being an easy film to like. Offering a clever alternative to lame coming of age comedies and even lamer rom coms for big kids, Easy A offers a generally likeable cast of characters and a moral message that is something more to aspire to than simply getting a leg over.
Easy A is released in Australia by Sony Pictures Entertainment.