A Classy Comedy
By Roxana Hadadi
New teen flick “Easy A” comes really close to being flawless, imbued with the same kind of touching black comedy that makes “Heathers” and “Mean Girls” such sleepover staples. Its lack of solid character development, though, results in some hasty plot twists thrown in near the end of the film, keeping it from reaching true popcorn-and-sleeping-bag status. Sure, you’ll enjoy it the first time around – but your chances of renting it again are pretty unlikely.
A semi-adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” “Easy A” stars Emma Stone (who has previously had supporting roles in other teen flicks like “Superbad” and “Zombieland”) as Olive Penderghast, a straight-laced, pretty girl who we’re expected to believe is a teenage outcast. She has a somewhat tense relationship with her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), whose large chest has invited boys’ attention, and can’t stand her class’s most loud-mouthed Christian, Marianne (Amanda Bynes), whose suggestive clothing – who knew skirts that short came in such wholesome pastel colors? – is in direct contrast to her strong religious beliefs. Otherwise, though, Olive is a nonentity at Ojai North High School, unnoticed among the sea of other super-slim teen girls with unbelievably shiny hair.
That is, of course, until she lies to Rhiannon to get out of a camping trip with Rhiannon’s weird, nudity-loving hippie parents; Olive instead says she has a date with her brother’s friend from community college, George. To make the story seem more believable, Olive tells Rhiannon she and George slept together that past weekend while Rhiannon was away with her family (in reality, Olive spent an uneventful few days dancing around her bedroom and playing with her dog). The fake secret doesn’t stay between Rhiannon and Olive, though: Marianne, in a bathroom stall while the friends were talking, overhears the whole thing, and by the end of the day everyone is buzzing about Olive’s virginity (or supposed lack thereof).
Within a few days, Olive isn’t an outcast anymore: All the boys want to talk to her, while all the girls can’t stop whispering. And then there are the members of Marianne’s Cross Your Heart Club, a religious school group who the year before successfully got the school’s mascot changed from the Blue Devils to the Woodchucks so they wouldn’t be worshipping Satan during athletic events anymore. They refuse to stay quiet about Olive’s supposed promiscuity, with member Nina (Mahaley Hessam) confronting Olive in the middle of English class; after Olive calls her a bad four-letter word, she’s sent to the principal’s office, where she sees old friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) sporting a bloody nose. Turns out Brandon is a closeted gay teen, and he begs Olive – whose reputation is already shot, even though she’s “not even a real slut” – to help him pretend the two had sex to get the jocks off his case.
So Olive does it. And when confronted with her classmates’ continued judgment, she decides to “be the dirtiest skank they’d ever see,” changing her school outfits to lingerie tops and high heels and sewing a red “A” on all her clothes. As more boys find out what she did for Brandon and come calling, she spins more and more lies to help their reputations in exchange for her own, culminating in a web of untruths that Olive isn’t sure she can fully unravel.
For the most part, the film – which heavily talks about sex, STDs and prostitution, includes shots of teens drinking, uses numerous four-letter words, implies various sexual acts and has one scene of sexual abuse – is successful because of Stone, whose hilarious delivery and sarcasm make her rants about teenage popularity generally convincing. (It’s just irritating that we’re expected to accept that someone so pretty would be so ignored in the beginning of the film.) Regardless of that, Stone is great, believable as both an empathetic friend willing to do whatever for someone else and a scared teen in over her head with pushy guys intent on using her.
And the characters on her side, including her parents Dill (Stanley Tucci) and Rosemary (Patricia Clarkson) and English teacher Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) are solid, too, with Tucci and Clarkson stealing the show in their wacky-but-supportive roles and Church as the exact kind of teacher you would want to have, sympathetic without being overbearing. Little praise can be given to some of the film’s other pivotal characters and actors, though. As Rhiannon, Michalka is abrasive and unbearable; her hammy acting makes any friendship between her character and Olive seem laughable – not in a good way. And Bynes isn’t any better; fellow former pop star Mandy Moore already played a two-faced, backstabbing religious teen in the 2004 flick “Saved,” and Bynes is a pathetic comparison.
So when “Easy A” begins to spin out of control near the end, with an affair between a student and a teacher and numerous people blackmailing Olive, it’s upsetting that a guy, Todd (admittedly, a cute and funny Penn Badgley), whom we barely see in the hours before, plays such a large role in the film’s conclusion. “Easy A” does a lot of other things right, but that sketchy character development and a feminism-killing ending certainly don’t count. “Heathers” has nothing to worry about.
Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “Going the Distance.”
Want to get outside instead of seeing a movie? Check out our calendar of kid-friendly Maryland events.