How do you improve upon the typical high school romantic comedy formula? Add references to an oppressive Puritanical society, of course.
In the latest film from director Will Gluck, Easy A, Emma Stone plays Olive, an anonymous good girl who transforms into her high school’s resident whore with a few white lies and a whole lot of attitude. The scene is set when Olive falls prey to a rumor that she lost her virginity to a sexy community college student.
Instead of defending the truth or filling the role of her new reputation, Olive decides to become the Good (sex) Samaritan of the school, offering fake sexual favors for compensation in the form of coupons and gift cards. In true Hollywood tradition, a romantic connection makes Olive realize that she does not need to continue playing the faux hussy in order to make a point or to feel like she exists when she walks through the hallways.
Despite its typical “you do matter!” message, Easy A is funny, even hilarious at times. Several unexpected twists keep the movie from being too cookie-cutter high school rom-com, and for the most part, the acting is well done. Olive’s relationship with her best friend, however, is a little dramatized. The same can be said of Amanda Bynes’ portrayal of crazy Christian bully Marianne, although Bynes does make a good villain and fits well into Regina George’s shoes (with serious Jesus-loving overtones).
Olive’s most notable good deed comes when she fakes relations with a gay friend. The emotional chemistry between Brandon (Dan Byrd) and Olive is impressive for such a lighthearted movie, and Byrd’s portrayal of an outcast teen is just shallow enough to keep the laughs coming.
Olive’s parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, add another dimension of hilarity to Olive’s situation. Their quippy family dinners and conversations are unrealistic enough to defy awkwardness, but just believable enough to seem like real familial interactions. Every time Tucci comes on screen, laughs are almost guaranteed.
The movie also serves as an update of the infamous required high school reading, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Though Olive’s inner revelations are sometimes cheesy, the analogy of the judgement imposed on Hester Prynne by Puritanical society and the judgment imposed on Olive by her peers is a smart one. The Scarlet Letter also influences Olive’s otherwise typical high school movie makeover. Calling upon fashions made for prostitutes, Olive sews red A’s onto her new bustiers in a ballsy maneuver of defiance, again mirroring Hawthorne’s famous heroine.
Easy A brings back the best drama of high school: gossip, romance, fights and even a little literature analysis. The end of the movie is slightly unsatisfying, however, as the script plays out as a typical cheesy wrap-up. With twists earlier in the film, expectations of a creative ending did not seem unwarranted. But for those looking for a feel-good movie, Easy A hits the mark with lots of laughter. The entirety of Theater Four at a Sept. 17 Laemmle showing agrees.