After Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) lies about losing her virginity on an imaginary date in order to avoid spending the weekend at her friend’s parents house the usually unnoticed teen suddenly finds herself very much the centre of attention among the High School community. As the lie quickly spreads, so it grows on the rumour mill, with Olive embracing her new found popularity and notoriety, increasing her bank balance along the way due to some dubious deeds of assistance for some of the less popular male students at the school.
Stone excels in the lead role, delivering the snappy dialogue and witty put downs with just the right amount of boredom laced into her clear intellect and draws favourable comparisons to Juno, lead character in Diablo Cody’s film of the same name. Like Juno, Olive is knowingly smart and opinionated, her strength drawn from her verbosity and apparent disdain for much of the world in which she inhabits. Like Juno, Easy A also delivers an intelligent skewering of the traditional moral codes that govern the High School genre. Where Cody’s movie dealt head-on and indeed heroically with teen pregnancy so Easy A looks at the varying attitudes to sex and the boundaries, obsessions and hypocrisies associated to it.
Thematically the film plays upon wider issues, albeit never losing its sense of humour and fun. Central to this is the notion of ostracism and the way gossip spreads with a salacious glee in this era of Facebook and Twitter – one of the smarter observations in the film coming from Thomas Hayden Church’s teacher Mr Griffiths who queries the younger generations need to divulge their every thought. The way the masses revel in the rumour-mongering, simultaneously delighting and passing scornful judgement on the hapless subject.
Drawing upon the themes of its source material (The Scarlet Letter) the film is scornful of its fundamental Christian judges, the little collective of Christian right students portrayed as comic villains in the role of pious persecutors with just a whiff of hypocrisy thrown in – a nod perhaps to the notion that society remains bound to the same puritanical mores of Hawthorne’s world. It’s interesting to note that moral barometer seems set by the loving, fiercely liberal Penderghast parents played to wonderful comic effect by Patricia Clarkson and the always brilliant Stanley Tucci.
At its heart though this is a classic High School genre movie. All the elements are there – the standard cliques, jocks, bitchy girls, cool kids, loners, nerds and the gay friend. However, rarely do we feel any great descent into cliché and when we do then Olive is there to point it out for us – as though she’s the real person among the fictionalised world, there to provide knowing nods and winks to the camera; to let us know she’s in on the joke. In fact the whole film is told with a less than subtle breaking of the fourth wall, played through the device of having Olive speak to the camera as though broadcasting a webcam stream.
Olive tells us how much she pines for her life to be like a John Hughes movie and the reality, of course, is that it is. If its moral conscience and issues are reflective of a 21st Century world then its heart remains firmly in the 80’s. With fine cameos from Tucci, Church, Lisa Kudrow and a hammed up to the max Malcolm McDowell as the head, Easy A provides a smart, witty 90 minutes worth of intelligent comedy that never falls into sentiment or moralising despite the content and, given the overload of drab post-American Pie movies of the past decade this is a High School film that not only draws influence from the iconic Hughes movies of the 80 but deserves to talked about in a similar vein.