Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: "Easy A"

It's so bursting with originality and smart dialogue, I can forgive "Easy A" for sometimes seeming too literate for its own good. But this is, after all, a high school flick inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," so even though I didn't really buy the words coming out of the mouth of a precocious 17-year-old, I still enjoyed knowing somebody uttered them.

For example, at one point notorious high schooler Olive (Emma Stone) refers to a homosexual friend as "Kinsey 6 gay." Now, how many people seeing this movie are going to know who Alfred Kinsey was, or what his 6-point scale meant? Maybe 2 percent? (Other than us failed psychology majors, of course.)

But I'm impressed that rookie screenwriter Bert V. Royal and director Will Gluck put that in their movie, knowing it'll sail over the heads of most of their intended audience. Who knows, maybe a few will Google it, and be rewarded with a delayed chuckle.

Olive is a nobody at her high school in Ojai (an actual place in the California desert) who stumbles upon a left-handed way to popularity: She pretends to have slept with a college guy. In actuality she's still a virgin who can't get a date. But she loves the way people talk and stare. She may not exactly be liked, but at least she's known.

Then the aforementioned friend, who's been getting hassled by the jocks because of his suspected sexuality, asks Olive to pretend to sleep with him. They stage a very public tryst at a party. Soon he's one of the guys, and Olive has become the most notorious girl at school. She flaunts it by stitching a red "A" on all her (suddenly low-cut) blouses, reveling in her newfound power.

"Now I'll have to get a low-back tattoo and pierce something not on my head," Olive jokes.

Amanda Bynes plays Marianne, the snooty leader of the teen Christian coalition, who becomes determined to see Olive shunned right out of school. Meanwhile, her best friend Rhia (Alyson Michalka) is none too pleased about being shunted out of the spotlight.

Royal populates the movie with likeable if unlikely characters. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley play Olive's parents, steadfastly adoring and supportive but cheerily keeping things light, cracking jokes and tossing double entendres. They're the sort of folks every teen wants to have, but none of them do because they reside not in Ojai, Calif., but inside a writer's head.

Thomas Haden Church is Mr. Griffith, the English teacher who manages to make Nathaniel Hawthorne seem cool -- or at least tolerable -- to high school kids. He likes to wander around the school's common areas, confiscating cigarettes and dispensing sage advice wrapped in a world-weary sarcasm.

Things grow drearier for Olive when she pretends to have slept with a string of losers and nerds, who pay her off with gift cards from The Home Depot and such in return for rescuing their masculinity. Olive is offended when one pretend lover offers only a coupon. "I fake-rocked your world!" she protests.

Of course, being a smart girl Olive soon realizes that taking money for pretending to have sex is not terribly different from actually selling sex. Luckily Todd, the cute boy who plays the school mascot (Penn Badgley), decides to suddenly requite the ardor Olive had been directing his way since 8th grade. It's exactly like a scene out of the '80s movies she cherishes.

I think "Easy A" will be most remembered as Emma Stone's breakout performance. I thought she was a little flat in other movies like last year's "Zombieland," but this role allows her to be witty and cool and dark in a Winona-Ryder-in-"Heathers" sort of way.

3 stars out of four


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