Easy A is easily one of the funniest comedies of the year. It’s witty, clever, silly, and is anchored by a breakthrough performance by star Emma Stone. Comedies set in high schools are usually a grind, but Easy A is the best one since 2004’s Mean Girls. The film even has some smart commentary on the nature of reputation in the digital age and how easier access to information hasn’t made it any easier to get to the truth, especially when a lie can be so much juicier. And in between its smart jokes and thoughtful subtext, Easy A also has a big heart. That’s essential when your protagonist is cashing in on pretending to be a skank.
If you can believe that a young woman as lovely as Emma Stone would go unnoticed by boys, then the central premise of her character Olive will work for you. Olive Penderghast is a whip-smart girl who is completely anonymous at her school until she tells a white lie about losing her virginity to a fictional community college student. This lie becomes even more inflated after a bullied gay student asks her to fake having sex with him so that the other students will think he’s straight and stop making his life a living hell. Even if Stone weren’t so damn lovable, the script is always does a good job of clearly showing that the clearly-not-stupid Olive is doing a somewhat-stupid thing for the right reasons.
The film effortlessly weaves in pop culture, technology, and yet never loses its beat on the smart joke. Too often, a film’s attempt to be hip is so transparent that the result is sad and awkward. Easy A doesn’t have that problem and its references always feel natural and organic to the story and setting.
But without the right actress cast as Olive, then the script and Will Gluck’s skilled direction would be stymied. Thankfully, Emma Stone not only carries Easy A, but does such an outstanding job that I’ll be shocked if she’s not A-list after this movie. Her comic timing and facial expressions are sublime and she shows the comedic talents of someone well beyond her years. She makes Olive’s intelligence charming instead of abrasive and isn’t afraid to embrace the insecurities of her character. Let us hope that this is the first of many leading roles for this talented young actress.
Stone could carry this movie on her own, but she’s backed up by a wonderful supporting cast, most notably Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson who play Olive’s parents. They’re the parents we all wish we could have, not just cool and understanding, but damn funny. Tucci and Clarkson’s interplay with each other and with Stone is so natural that I would love to see a spinoff that just focused on Mr. and Mrs. Penderghast.
The film takes its title from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Olive relates to protagonist Hester Prynne and her public condemnation for adultery. As an act of rebellion, Olive sews the letter “A” risque pieces of clothing and wears it proudly. When her English teacher asks why she’s wearing the letter, Olive smirks and says, “Oh, it’s for awesome.” If all high school comedies were like Easy A, the world would be a better place, or at least a funnier one. The script is outstanding, Gluck’s direction had me heading out to see his previous film Fired Up!, and the film is worth seeing for Stone’s performance alone even though the whole cast is terrific. “Awesome,” indeed.