Stone gives us something to watch: ambiguous grins and shifty-eyed suspicion, sassy walks and tumbling awkwardness, owning the screen and turning this buoyant lark into a star-making vehicle of Pretty Woman proportions.
Judged on a curve, set by the testosterone-fueled raunch-a-thons that have dominated teen comedies from American Pie to Superbad and beyond, Easy A deserves an A+, with extra credit for lack of misogyny, cock talk, or flatulence. But curves or concessions aren’t necessary. Not when the film exhibits this much wit and intelligence, and not with Emma Stone casually owning the screen and turning this buoyant lark into a star-making vehicle of Pretty Woman proportions.
Stone plays Olive, a high schooler who’s neither popular nor a pariah; she’s just a regular girl with, as she puts it, “an above-average mind and below-average breast size.” To avoid spending the weekend away with the nudist hippie parents of her pestering friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), she claims to have a date with a college boy — the one thing that’s sure to impress her sex-obsessed friend. Since there’s no such boy, Olive is happy to while away the weekend in her bedroom, painting her dog’s pawnails and obsessing over a cheesy greeting card that plays Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine.” But on Monday, Rhiannon wants details, prompting Olive to tell a fib that grows more elaborate by the minute (she claims to have lost her virginity in a room lit by “sexy Glade candles”).
Their conversation is overheard by Christian goody-goody Marianne (Amanda Bynes), who starts spreading the news of Olive’s loose ways. As quickly as her classmates can thumb out text messages, Miss Invisible becomes Miss Infamous. But instead of being horrified, she’s amused by the false accounts and telephone games, and is emboldened by the attention. Then things get out of hand. Olive becomes the geekiest working girl in film history by accepting Amazon gift certificates — from boys both gay and straight alike — in exchange for spreading rumors of fictional, reputation-boosting sexploits. The Christians want her expelled, the guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) uses her as cover for her own dalliances, and no one seems to believe that the school slut is actually a virgin. It all prompts her to host a live video-chat in order to set the record straight, establishing her (and screenwriter Bert V. Royal) with a platform from which to narrate the story. “The rumors of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated,” she says, nicking from Twain and henceforth stealing the hearts of actual boys and girls.
She also drops some Sylvia Plath, Judy Blume and The Runaways. Olive quotes less out of pretension than the fact that she just can’t help it; she’s a smart girl. When she decides to run with her bad reputation, she stitches a scarlet letter “A” over the left breast of her bustier to become a Ray Bans-wearing Hester Prynne. Such playfulness continues before and behind the camera, with Royal and director Will Gluck (Fired Up) eagerly drafting off the beloved ’80s teen comedies of John Hughes, Savage Steve Holland and Cameron Crowe, though often breaking their own spell to pay gratuitous homage. Hughes’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is referenced on at least five occasions, while Hughes and Crowe are remixed for a finale that puts dreamboat cheerleading mascot Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgley) outside Olive’s window, blasting “Don’t You Forget About Me” from a pair of puny computer speakers. “John Hughes did not direct my life,” sighs Olive, but it’s certainly meant to seem that way.
Excepting an awkward, needless montage of Hughes’s greatest hits (Judd Nelson fist-pump, Ferris on the float!), Easy A is a worthy cub. Olive’s free spirit is more self-confident than Molly Ringwald’s Samantha Baker, and leavens Bueller’s sexy insouciance with self-deprecation. Unabashedly smart, she’s never asked to play dumb. She’s incredibly cute but doesn’t trade on it. She’s sarcastic but not cruel — she’s clever in order to parry, not outwit. She thinks she’s a dork not because she’s got low self-esteem, but, a la Mean Girls, because dorkiness is a totally acceptable state of being. And rather than saddle her with clueless or overbearing parents, Royal and Gluck take the road less traveled: they fashion a kid who still giggles in the company of her parents, and parents who give their daughter room to work things out. It’s potentially off-putting to see such love and acceptance in a teen movie, but it helps to have Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci (betrothed again after 2007’s Blind Date) on the case, jittery scene-stealers who simultaneously embrace and take the piss out of the liberal ideal.
Much like the young Broderick, 21 year-old Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) puts over an impossibly big personality through sheer force of charm. From moment to moment, setup to setup, she gives us something to watch: ambiguous grins and shifty-eyed suspicion, sassy walks and tumbling awkwardness. With a husky voice that matches ScarJo’s, Stone delivers lines like she’s savoring them. “I fake rocked your world,” she tells a co-conspirator, breathless after groaning and pogo-ing on a bed for the benefit of gossipy classmates in the hall. But Stone really does rock Easy A, making Gluck’s valentine to Hughes into something lovable in its own right.