“Easy A” is a well-studied mash-up of every great teen comedy of the last 25 years, yet has its own distinct personality. The framing of the story is the main reason for this, but ultimately the credit goes to a literate and well-plotted script by Bert V. Royal, who makes the most ridiculous moments seem plausible.
Olive (Emma Stone) is desperate to get out of a dinner date with best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) and her hippie parents, so she makes up a story about having a date with a college guy. When Rhiannon presses her for details, Olive feels pressured to sell the lie hard, so she tells Rhiannon that she had sex with “George.” Unfortunately, the pious Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears the whole conversation, and tells the entire school. Olive goes from the school nobody to It Girl in seconds, and once her closeted gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) knows the truth, he asks Olive if she’ll be willing to lie about sleeping with him in order to save him from getting bullied by the school lunkheads. Olive reluctantly agrees, and from there Olive’s life goes spiraling out of control as Rhiannon becomes jealous of Olive’s newfound attention and downtrodden boys come up with ways to use Olive’s new reputation to their advantage.
The movie wisely addresses its fondness for John Hughes and his likeminded teen comedy peers up front (it even contains covers of seminal “John Hughes songs” on its soundtrack), though the spirits of “Clueless” (narration), “10 Things I Hate About You” (source material) and “Juno” (smart, plucky heroine) are present as well. Even Olive’s closeted gay friend Brandon looks like Alicia Silverstone’s gay friend Christian, while Olive’s parents (the hilarious Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) are Juno MacGuff’s parents, all unconditional love but with larger libidos. And yet, with all of these voices going through its head, the movie is remarkably focused and grounded in its own universe. The opening credits, though, could not help but stir up memories of Stone’s 2009 breakthrough “Zombieland.”
Stone looks too old to be in high school (she’s 22), but it’s tough to imagine the movie without her. She gives Olive the perfect mix of sex appeal, approachability, sass and smarts, something her heroine forebearers were lacking in one department or another. Thomas Haden Church is very amusing in a far-too-brief role as Olive’s English teacher, and Malcolm McDowell gets a couple good scenes as the warden-like principal. Unfortunately, no teenage character besides Olive receives a tremendous amount of depth. In fact, Rhiannon and Marianne are given the same trait of doing much more talking than listening, presumably as a means to keep the plot rolling along. The male love interest, Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgley), is like Paul Rudd in “Clueless” without the politics, which is to say he’s just a nice guy. Pity.
Still, it’s nice to see a teen comedy put the story ahead of the gag, and while it may result in more snickers than laugh-out-loud moments, it also makes for a better movie. That’s what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it? Juno, Cher, Samantha Baker, Kat Stratford and Andie Walsh would love “Easy A,” praise from Caesar that not even Roger Ebert’s thumbs-up can match.(4 / 5)