Easy A (Screen Gems, PG-13)

I’m pleased to report that Easy A is a smart, genre-aware satire of high school comedies and of the suburban high school experience in general.

Easy A proves you should never pre-judge a film by its advertised genre or a filmmaker by his or her previous work. Instead, think back to grade school when you were instructed not to judge a book by its cover, and apply that lesson to the experience of watching a new film. In the case of this movie, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Easy A is being marketed as a high school comedy, and director Will Gluck’s last film was Fired Up!, so you can see why I might have approached his current offering with some trepidation. However, I’m pleased to report that Easy A is a smart, genre-aware satire of high school comedies and of the suburban high school experience in general. It’s both well-acted and well-written. For the latter we can thank screenwriter Bert V. Royal, who also wrote the Peanuts parody Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (which won him a GLAAD Media Award and was the toast of the New York International Fringe Festival a few years ago).
Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is a smart, pretty high school student, but nobody seems to notice her. Then, as an excuse for skipping out on a family weekend with her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), Olive makes up a story about losing her virginity to a college student. Suddenly, her classmates’ perceptions of her take a dramatic turn—from then on it’s as if she were packing her own followspot.
Things get more interesting when Olive’s fellow students start asking for her services—not by actually sleeping with them, but just by telling people that they had engaged in some kind of sexual activity together (the tag line, “Let’s don’t and say we did,” is a better description of this film than the actual title). The first to enlist Olive’s help is a friend (Dan Byrd) who is picked on for being gay. He figures that his clueless classmates can easily be fooled into thinking he’s really a heterosexual super stud—and with Olive’s help he proves this theory right. More requests follow, and she turns it into a business, collecting gift cards in return for the permission to spread rumors involving various base levels.
Some things never change, and it seems there will always be dimwits who hold an inordinate amount of power in our world and promote a double standard about sex. To them, a guy who does it is a stud while a girl who does it is a slut —and guys who do it with each other are too disgusting to even think about. Olive, who’s studying The Scarlet Letter in English class, decides to embrace her new reputation and starts wearing hooker-worthy outfits with a scarlet A over one boob. The campus Christian group led by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) prays for her salvation, but they’re too ridiculous to bother Olive, and her parents (a hilarious Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) are willing to let her figure things out for herself. Which of course, she does very neatly by the end of the film. This is a teen comedy, after all.
Easy A includes several standout supporting roles. Thomas Haden Church plays a sympathetic English teacher, Lisa Kudrow plays a less sympathetic guidance counselor and Malcolm McDowell is a hoot in a small role as the school principal. Of the students, Penn Badgley is a good guy with an admirably-toned torso and Cam Gigandet has a small role as a character who’s not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.
The film that Easy A most resembles is Mean Girls; it has the same focus on the absurdities of high school social life and a similar story about an outsider manipulating the system for her own benefit. There’s not much to give offense in the way of sexual innuendo or bad language (reportedly the screenplay was cleaned up considerably in order to get a PG-13 instead of an R rating), but many people will have a hard time with the film’s message—that teenage girls can and should be in charge of their own sexuality. To which I say: this is the modern world and we live in a secular democracy, so just get over it. | Sarah Boslaugh

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