by Richard von Busack
OLIVE (Emma Stone) is a high school student in Ojai, population 8,000; her dirty-minded best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), invites her over for a party, but Olive declines and fibs about having a big date for the weekend. Then Olive spends her weekend in good company: by herself.
There are two kinds of people in Easy A: the ones who know how to amuse themselves, and the ones who look to gossip for their entertainment. Director Will Gluck stages Olive’s weekend alone as a date with an earworm: a montage staged to Natasha Bedingfield’s horrid “Pocketful of Sunshine,” a tune that arrives delivered in her granny’s electronic greeting card.
Olive first fights off the song but eventually succumbs to it. The montage—Olive hanging around, grooming herself and her dog, lolling and reading, is an introduction to Stone. She has a glorious face for comedy, that self-amusement mentioned earlier, an inner merriment, quite wide eyes and a childish softness around the chin. No one apparently notices Olive in a school of glams. And she’s so smart that she’s smart enough to hide how smart she is.
Rhiannon demands details of the dirty weekend Olive spent, and so Olive cooks up a false tale of lost virginity, which spreads over the school at the speed of electronic chat. “That’s the beauty of being a girl in high school: have sex once, and you’re a bimbo,” Olive tells a video diary.
She is studying The Scarlet Letter under the direction of a pleasingly platitudinous English teacher (Thomas Haden Church of Sideways). When a fellow student calls Hester Prynne a slut, Olive replies with an obscenity. In detention, she meets a fellow student named Brandon (Dan Byrd), who is beaten up regularly for being gay. Since Olive’s reputation is shot already, she decides to pretend to have sex with Brandon at a party, so that he can pose as straight.
By now, Olive is considered the Whore of Babylon, especially to the Cross Your Heart Christian Club at school, led by Marianne (Amanda Bynes, perhaps doing a Sarah Palin imitation). Annoyed by the gossip, Olive decides to wear a scarlet letter A of her own.
Set to (of course) “Bad Reputation,” Olive performs the ur-scene of teen movies, the girl taking scissors to her wardrobe, a la Pretty in Pink. A montage of John Hughes films gets screen-checked, but I liked Easy A’s world better than any of Hughes’ conformist works, despite Gluck’s tendency to shoot the exteriors of Ojai homes with Nancy Meyers–like fussiness.
Easy A is a thoroughly urbane movie; the urbanity is seen best in Olive’s rapport with her parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci). They’re self-amused jokers, always posed next to a bottle of wine, and they’re without helicopter-parenting skills. “I wouldn’t know how to be grounded, any more than you’d know how to ground,” Olive says.
Believe it or don’t, there’s no speech about how Mom and Dad ought to pay more attention to their daughter’s troubles. Clarkson and Tucci are the modern version of the country club types with martinis who played the parents in golden-age screwball comedy. But Clarkson’s enjoyable running gag is all her own—she knows how to gross her daughter out by hinting at her own wild sex life and by purring at her memories.
Screenwriter Bert V. Royal’s gags are almost syncopated—this isn’t relentless joke-joke-joke, as in Easy A’s inferior, Juno. The laughs come with a different kind of rhythm, with the grace of a word to the wise, and the sense on how to emphasize sting at just the right time. One sighs with satisfaction at the smooth manner with which Olive handles Brandon’s confession that he’s gay.
Stone’s endearing way with a quip persists, as when she sees the high school mascot Woodchuck Todd with his costume’s head off: “Oh, my God, the illusion is shattered.” Even the product placement is funny. Easy A is bright enough to come out in favor of personal freedom, instead of just going after the low-hanging fruit of electronic gossipers.