Directed by Will Gluck
A lot happens in good teen movies. The social structure of a high school has to be established, and a character placed within that social structure must ring true as someone we “know.” That character then has to be believably transferred from there to scenes placed in something recognizable as real life, where they interact and struggle against parents and other adults, who themselves have either “passed” aforementioned created-structure, or “failed” and continue to perpetuate it on some level in their own world. And this can’t happen just once, but over and over again for two hours, most importantly, without predictability. Clueless and Heathers are among the best teen movies we have because their main characters don’t seem like they should be coming up against the problems they do. Intelligent Veronica is first set up against the popular Heathers, but it’s actually the anti-popular bad boy and her own darkness that she has to fight against; and similarly, teen queen Cher must first prove her smarts and good nature to her collegiate step-brother, but it turns out there’s hardly any proving to do, and it’s actually her popularity that’s in jeopardy. The best moment of Easy A is the one that surprises us and for that moment, with Lisa Kudrow’s character, it is up there with those two films—but otherwise, too often in the movie, plucky Olive Penderghast is a Veronica with Cher’s problems and so remains far away from landing its title letter.
Not that the film and character don’t have quality elements. Emma Stone’s Olive is a good vessel for the Facebook/YouTube generation being painted in Easy A. She’s pretty enough to be confident to post a video blog but not enough of a knock-out for it to go to her head. She’s incredibly articulate, but still innocent enough to keep up with her peers’ mindless status updates. She also has good taste, but lacks irony when she makes a terrible song her ring-tone. These things capture a real young person. As does her frenemy-ship with Rhiannon, and the sarcast-athon she keeps going with her parents, played with oozing geeky charm by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, whose lines sing, especially those involving The Bucket List.
Too bad the plot can’t quite keep up with the zingers. The second Olive remarks that things took “a turn for the scandalous,” you will be waiting a long time to see what she means. After all, the whole movie is a take on The Scarlet Letter, where Olive keeps the town’s secrets by pretending to be the school slut, and wears it as a badge. The school’s gay is first, its virgin fatty is second, which is fine; except, in the beginning we are given a flashback to a young Olive, who lies for a boy to look like a stud in a game of 7 Minutes in Heaven. Girl’s been doing the Hester Prynne-without-the-action gig for a long time. So, what’s the real scandal? It’s certainly not one of character, which would be really interesting. Instead it’s just banal teenage rumors, which Patricia Clarkson’s mother character says to Olive she’s smart enough to handle. Which she is, and finally does.
Still, there are enough obstacles along the way, including what I won’t spoil about Lisa Kudrow’s guidance counselor character, and Amanda Bynes’ Christian teen, for the film to not completely bore. Even though a chipper religious zealot is no match for Olive, it doesn’t mean it’s not funny to watch the attempt. In one scene, Bynes threateningly sharpens pencils, while Olive just coos “Ooo, they’re so sharp! Sharp. They are sharp!” hilariously, driving a truck through her ineffectiveness. If only some of the other scenes were as self-mocking, including back-to-back, truly strange visits Olive makes to churches. But unfortunately, Easy A‘s jokes about Demi Moore’s The Scarlet Letter ends up holding just as true for itself. Not the fake British accent and numerous, odd bath scenes, of course, but its translation to the screen. That turned out to be not so sharp. I’d be all for a novel, though.
– Michael Narkunski