‘Easy A’ Doesn’t Make the Grade

Easy A -- Dir. Will Gluck (Screen Gems) -- 2 STARS

COURTESY SCREEN GEMS

Emma Stone addresses her viewers in "Easy A."

Once upon a time, there was a tall, gorgeous redhead with a husky voice who went to a high school where no one was very nice to her. Despite being gorgeous, she was invisible and uncool until she pretended to be someone she really wasn’t, mostly by wearing more revealing clothing. Suddenly everybody was talking about her, and she basked in her newfound notoriety until everything started to go terribly wrong. In the end, she realized that she should instead embrace her true self and wear more conservative clothing.

Though this plot may sound a bit like Lindsay Lohan’s career-making hit, “Mean Girls,” the movie being discussed here is actually Emma Stone’s potentially career-making hit, “Easy A,” a loose adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Its storyline isn’t particularly original, believable, or funny, and the plot spins completely out of control in the final third, but the movie manages to remain entertaining because of Stone and a few outstanding performances by her supporting cast.

The film is oddly structured as a webcast streamed by Olive Penderghast (Stone), who attempts to explain away her whorish reputation. In order to get out of a trip with her obnoxious friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), she claims to be spending the weekend with her college-age boyfriend. Pushy Rhiannon forces Olive to confess to having sex with her imaginary boy, though in reality she spent the weekend dancing to “Pocketful of Sunshine” in one of the funnier montages in the film. Of course, Christian extremist Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears and spreads the rumor to the whole school, turning Olive into an insta-tramp.

The movie’s plot kicks in when Olive’s gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) asks her to pretend to have sex with him so the other kids will stop making fun of him for being gay. It’s not clear whether this request is supposed to be funny, sad, or some sort of social commentary on how gay kids feel the need to pretend to be straight because of societal pressure, but whatever the case may be, it feels very uncomfortable. The fake sex scene itself is definitely a highlight of the movie—“It smells!” “You’re not supposed to say it smells!” “Oh. It doesn’t really smell!”—but Byrd’s portrayal of a gay high schooler is so over-the-top that he is not particularly funny.

The same is true of all of the other males who exploit Olive’s reputation as a whore to boost their social status; the fat kid pouts and eats a snickers bar when Olive doesn’t want to help him, the Indian kid is cheap and tries to pay her with a coupon, and the viewer doesn’t know whether it’s supposed to be funny or offensive. The same is true of all of the caricatures in the movie, from the Christian extremist group led by Amanda Bynes in an incredibly irritating performance to the sex-starved guidance counselor who gives chlamydia to a student in a bizarre plot turn towards the film’s conclusion. Because all of the exaggerations hit a little bit too close to home, “Easy A” is a wince-and-wonder-whether-to-grin movie instead of a laugh-out-loud movie.

The only supporting characters who add a sense of true humor to the movie are Olive’s parents, hilariously portrayed by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci. They are unbelievably, incredibly fun, and despite their craziness of their lines, seem to represent some of the only moments of sanity in such a strange film. When Olive sits down with her family to watch a movie and they comment on the scandalous clothes that she’s been wearing to school—“Honey, you’ve been dressing like a hooker.” “But a high-end stripper, for governors or athletes!”—Tucci and Clarkson somehow manage to convey truly caring parents even through such outlandish lines. The best moment between Olive and her mother happens at the end of the movie, when Clarkson goes into extreme detail about all of the different sexual tricks she performed as an actual “slut” in high school.

Stone herself is fantastic as Olive, a parallel to Lohan’s breakout acting as Cady in “Mean Girls.” Her comedic timing is right on, and most astoundingly, she manages to turn Olive’s ludicrous story into a believable one, so that viewers truly understand why a girl would resort to slaying her reputation for the sake of a bunch of not-so-deserving males. She expresses the psychology of Olive and infuses her with realness while still getting all the gag laughs that she’s supposed to.

As far as high school adaptations of classic literature go, “Easy A” ranks far below films like “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Clueless.” Reading the book or even just re-watching “Mean Girls” is probably a better option.

—Staff writer Araba A. Appiagyei-Dankah can be reached at aadankah@fas.harvard.edu.

Tags