Easier Said Than Done
Easy A and the charming Emma Stone
by Molly Templeton
EASY A: Directed by Will Gluck. Written by Bert V. Royal. Cinematography, Michael Grady. Editor, Susan Littenberg. Music, Brad Segal. Starring Emma Stone, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow. Screen Gems, 2010. PG-13. 92 minutes.
Easy A works for three reasons: One, its star, Emma Stone (of Superbad and Zombieland) is unreasonably appealing. Stone has a scruffy voice and a way with a disbelieving squint; as Olive Penderghast, she’s quick with a snappy comeback, moving through the dangerous waters of high school with a dry combination of sarcasm and sharp-eyed intelligence. Olive has a long line of cousins in the annals of high school comedies, and Easy A scribbles its John Hughes influence on its sleeve (with a heart lovingly drawn around it), but Stone makes Olive her own young woman.
The second and third reasons Easy A is a charmer are Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, who play, with gusto, Olive’s slightly kooky parents, Rosemary and Dill. They aren’t as weird as Olive’s friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka)’s parents, who throw naked cookouts in their California backyard, but Rosemary and Dill are the kind of parents who easily discuss their own youthful indiscretions, sweetly tell their daughter when she’s dressing like a stripper and, when told Olive has used inappropriate language in school, simply want to know what word she chose.
If all you want to do is enjoy talented actors having a ball tossing snappy lines back and forth, Easy A has plenty to offer in the scenes with Olive and fam. But writer Bert V. Royal and director Will Gluck seem to be trying to split the difference between a sharp, literate comedy and a safe, if zingy, little tale about being yourself. The plot starts simply: Olive, doing a favor for a put-upon gay friend, agrees to pretend to have sex with said friend, who wants to fake straightness until graduation. This works so well that other needy young men ask Olive to do them the same favor. And the rumor mill works so furiously that what Olive has agreed to pretend to do and what the world thinks she’s done are way out of alignment within minutes.
There’s smart fun to be had with the whole wonky issue of high school kids, reputations and sex, but Easy A takes the easy route, just running with the obvious absurdity of Olive, a virgin, having a rep as the school slut — and oh, by the way, dudes are really into sex and the rep it gives them! Olive, socially invisible but confident nonetheless, doesn’t really have any reason to keep up her game — given her sprawling house and effortless shopping spree, she doesn’t need the gift cards the guys hand over, and the rumors quickly cause more trouble than they’re worth. And once that ball gets rolling, Easy A starts to rely on tired clichés and lazy shorthand instead of character. Easy A starts swift and savvy, but leans too heavily on ’80s-flick nostalgia and a gentle moralism that’s not nearly as endearing as Olive’s sass. Miss Stone — and her character — are better than the movie in which they’re hanging, but there are far worse ways to spend a damp afternoon.