With Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow. Directed by Will Gluck. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material. 92 minutes.
Every once in a great while a teen comedy comes along that stands out from the pack. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” “Ten Things I Hate About You.” “Mean Girls.” To that list we must now add EASY A, a sharp-witted comedy about high school that draws some blood, but also manages to show a good deal of humor, with the parents getting a few of the best lines.
Olive (Emma Stone) is a bright student who doesn’t stand out in the crowd. To avoid a weekend invitation with the weird family of her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), Olive pretends to have had a weekend fling with a college student. This is overheard by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) who deems Olive a harlot and proceeds to spread the word around the school. Olive decides to play this for all it’s worth and, having read “The Scarlet Letter” in English, dons a red “A” on her now decidedly trampy outfits.
She’s still virginal, but her reputation isn’t, and that’s what the story exploits, as a series of boys ply her with gifts to pretend to have had sex with them in order to bolster their own reputations. It sounds contrived, but one boy is desperate. He’s gay and is under constant bullying. He says he knows life will be better once he’s out of high school, but that’s where he is now and he has to do what he can to get through it.
As the rumors fly and become even more complicated, Olive finds that what started as a prank is having serious consequences, not only for her but her favorite teacher (Thomas Haden Church) whose guidance counselor wife (Lisa Kudrow) uses Olive’s bad reputation to her own advantage. Amazingly her parents (Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson) maintain their faith in her, although we see where she gets her own twisted sense of humor. Credit for the sharp script goes to first-timer Bert V. Royal, who makes an impressive debut.
The performances are on-the-money, with Stone getting the breakout role she has needed. She’s funny and smart and if her turn has any drawback it is that she’s much too attractive for the supposed “plain” character she’s supposed to be. Bynes, already a veteran performer, is a hoot as the evangelical teen who wants to “save” Olive, and Tucci and Clarkson are hilarious as her parents. Even those in small roles are stellar, particularly Malcolm McDowell as the crusty high school principal. Director Will Gluck, whose previous film was the silly but better-than-expected “Fired Up,” gets the most out of his cast.
“Easy A” is a film that can be enjoyed by teens and by adults, although probably not together. Clarkson going into graphic detail about what a hellion she was in high school would embarrass any teen, and adolescents might not want their parents to hear which jokes they’re finding funny. However, there ought to be some lively and open conversations afterwards, which in itself proves “Easy A” effective, beyond just its humor.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.