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'Easy A' a romp worth talking about

Teen comedy puts a modern spin on 'The Scarlet Letter'

POSTED: September 16, 2010 12:30 a.m.
/Screen Gems

Emma Stone, right, and Amanda Bynes star in "Easy A." This comedy about life in high school would make John Hugnes proud.

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I don't think I've ever been so glad to have grown up male. If surviving high school is really as difficult for girls as "Easy A" makes it seem, young women should receive medals along with their diplomas.

Olive (Emma Stone) tells one lie-a lie I heard countless boys tell in high school-and soon finds her reputation changed forever thanks to the ferocious teenage gossip machine.

She tells her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) she can't spend the weekend with Rhiannon's family because she has a date. Olive claims the date is with a guy from a community college, so Rhiannon doesn't know him.

The following Monday, Rhiannon pressures Olive about the details of the date, and to shut up her obnoxious friend, Olive says she lost her virginity to the guy.

Olive is a good girl and has fun pretending for a couple minutes that she did something naughty. And after all, it's just between her and a friend, right?

Wrong. Self-righteous, Christian busybody Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears the fib then spreads word of Olive's exploits. Thanks to the speed of text messaging, Olive's defloration is common knowledge within a few hours.

The next step in the downward spiral is a favor Olive does for her gay classmate Brandon (Dan Byrd). Brandon is bullied because of his sexuality, and what better way to end that torment than to prove to everyone he is straight? Olive and Brandon stage a fake (and hilarious) romp during a party.

And here's one of the many truths that "Easy A" captures. The moment everyone believes Brandon has lost his virginity, they show him more respect, and not just because they now think he's straight.

The moment everyone believes Olive has lost her virginity, the girls sneer sideways at her and boys suddenly pay her attention because they think she'll put out.

If you don't believe this double standard actually exists, your name is Pollyanna.

The ruse works so well for Brandon that other outcast boys begin soliciting Olive's services. They give her some sort of payment (she gets a lot of gift cards) in exchange for a story that proves their manhood.

Olive embraces her notoriety. Her English class is reading "The Scarlet Letter," so as a way of waving her middle finger at all the gossips and judgmentals she pins an "A" on herself.

None of this plays as cynically as it might sound. It isn't nearly as cynical as high school itself. "Easy A" is a riotously funny, smart, surprisingly literate piece of satire. It rivals "Clueless" in its adaptation of literary classics to a modern high school setting (it uses Mark Twain in a way you'll never see coming).

It also brilliantly references 80s movie classics like "The Breakfast Club," "Say Anything," and others.
Like the John Hughes movies, "Easy A" does have flaws. It leans too heavily on stereotypes. It's particularly unforgiving to the Christian characters. That's the only part of the movie that feels like someone is grinding an axe.

The parents are also problematic. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play the coolest parents since Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons in "Juno," but they witness their daughter battling an entire high school, dressing like a hooker, and pinning letters on her clothes, and they never intervene. Like the parents in "Valley Girl," they lend supportive attitudes and reassurances of their love, but they let Olive learn from her own mistakes.

This will surely give real parents something to debate after the credits roll.

What no one can debate is whether Emma Stone is a legitimate leading lady. She carries the movie with a perfect balance of vulnerability, strength, heart, and cynicism. Above all, she is the finest comedienne of her generation.

And this is one of the best high school movies of its generation. "Easy A" would make John Hughes proud.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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