Did we need a Saved! for the Facebook and Twitter generation? If Easy A gets remembered for anything apart from Emma Stone’s excellent performance, as well as the supporting turns by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, it will be for the social networking metaphor the film presents in the alacrity with which the lies and gossips central to the film’s narrative spread across the breadth of an entire public high school. That’s not to speak poorly of the film; it’s solid, well made and well acted with a cheeky sense of humor and a refreshing sense of self-awareness, but it’s at a disadvantage given that Saved! covered similar thematic ground six years ago and, frankly, did so with greater aplomb. They’re different enough for the similarities not to matter much, though– and besides, nobody really remembers Saved! all that much anyways (regrettably).
Easy A is the story of high school student Olive Penderghast (Stone), who through a series of little white lies finds herself living the life of a modern-day Hester Prynne and made into a social pariah for the crime of sharing numerous trysts with as many of her fellow students. The rub of course is that Olive is a virgin, and the alleged sexual encounters are fictitious narratives that the social outcasts of her school pay her– in gift cards– to fabricate and loudly relay to the rest of their classmates and earn them a respite from loserdom. Maybe one could call Olive’s methods misguided at best, but at least her heart’s in the right place. Good intentions only carry a person so far, of course, and the entire school comes to view her as a hussy while the Christian fellowship on campus, led by Marianne (Amanda Bynes), takes it upon themselves to “save” her in their self-righteous manner, and Olive’s life generally begins to spiral out of her control.
Nobody involved with Easy A, most of all director Will Gluck, cares about reinventing the wheel with this film. It’s a straightforward and uncomplicated plot without a trace of that pesky grey-area morality standing in the way of a neat-as-you-please plot resolution in which our protagonist is relieved of all of her sins and everything is restored to order. What the players involved are concerned with is making the journey to that tidy finale as enjoyable as possible. Easy A may not be a particularly challenging or robust movie outside of that central social networking metaphor, but it’s a fun distraction that probably plays even better for the teenage set than it does for a jaded late-twentysomething; the film’s clearly aimed at that particular demographic, after all, with a heroine who dances to the beat of her own drum and doesn’t fall prey to the whims of adults in charge or crumble under the weight of peer pressure, and with authority figures who constitute an idealized cool that most parents and teachers don’t typically live up to.
And, of course, it’s funny, clumsy in the ways of inducing big belly guffaws but quick enough to draw out loud chuckles and genuine laughter. Blame Stone for most of the snickering; she’s a known quantity at this point, wry and sarcastic, but she’s rarely had as much of the punchline burden placed on her as in Easy A. She’s more than up to the task, of course, but she has to work to keep ahead of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, who play pretty the overused alt-teenage dramedy trope of the quirky alt-parent, deftly and with sharp timing. They’re on the screen for mere moments in the film’s total run time, but they’re a joy to watch whenever they’re on screen. As a note, don’t expect the typical vulgarity present in many of today’s comedies from Gluck’s film; it plays things clean, eschewing shock gags and employing a minimum of bad language. I don’t think that speaks anything to the film’s quality or its legitimacy as a solid comedy, but know what you’re buying before you purchase your ticket.
Beyond performance and humor– and the movie is funny, and Stone is a delight to watch– Easy A isn’t saying much, even with the entire Scarlet Letter bit that informs part of the title and the rising action of the plot. I don’t see the need for the literary allusion whatsoever; take away Olive’s eventual decision to sew a red fabric “A” on all of her outfits, and the movie stays essentially the same. That’s because Olive learns from her experiences instead of from the book, and as much as the novel influences her it frankly doesn’t figure into the movie after Olive embraces the image she’s fostered for herself. I don’t know how Gluck managed to make The Scarlet Letter feel completely extraneous in a movie that tries to be a modern-day retelling of the iconic story, but boy did he ever– if he’d kept any mention of the book out of his film entirely, or allowed it to play a greater role in Olive’s eventual repentance, I think the entire picture would have worked better. As is, the connection is tenuous at best.
That doesn’t stop Easy A from being a good time, but I think it could have been really something special if Gluck cared more about connecting the thematic elements of his film together in any satisfactory way. Clearly he’s not too concerned with that particular task, and that’s his prerogative and also, again, not an indicator of whether the film is worth seeing. Easy A‘s a lot of fun, and you’ll probably enjoy yourself, but even with Stone as the central figure, it’s not going to get you to come back for a second look.