Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Dan Byrd, Aly Michalka, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell
Plot: A unpopular high school girl (Stone) lies about losing her virginity and discovers she has become the centre of attention.
As we get further into the modern age, high school movies are becoming increasingly easier to suss out the good ones from the bad ones. In the 80s, thanks to the masterful John Hughes, they were mostly a roaring success, most of the cult classics of our childhood attributed to the likes of Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller. They had a staple formula, stuck to it and for the most part, it worked well. The 90s saw the high school movie less a consistent winner and more a matter of taste. Did you go with the cutesy comedy styling of Clueless or the more gross-out American Pie? As we hit the 00s, most high school movies were mimicking the greats that came before, referencing the 80s nostalgia or trying to hone in on what made the likes of Mean Girls so successful. Even the better examples failed to break away from a tired genre that was beginning to become tiresome. However, every cloud has a silver lining and the mass production and watered down nature of the high school movie genre does mean that when there is a genuinely good one in our midst, we notice it. And now we have given Easy A time to settle in our memories and we learn that the jokes are just as strong as they were on an original watch, it is easy to see that this is a film so many leagues ahead of the competition that it almost becomes a shame to lump it with the rest of the genre.
Of course, Easy A has an ace in the hole up its sleeve: Emma Stone. Easy A is probably the quintessential Emma Stone movie, the small-time production that chose the up and coming actress as its lead and acted as a pedestal where the talented individual could blast her acting talents from the rooftops. We had seen her do charismatic in Superbad and rebellious in Zombieland, but Easy A sees her go from “promising future star” to “the only actress in Hollywood you need to be paying attention to right now”. It is a tour de force from the young starlet, as Stone goes from sarcastic joker to queen bee bitch all the way to emotionally torn. Actresses dream of landing a part as wide-ranged as Olive Penderghast. However, with a part as great as this, it needs an actress willing to fill the shoes well and Stone meets a great script halfway. This is a film that takes the character to uncomfortably places most of the script revolving around awkward sexual encounters and the middling grey area of morality. You are half expecting Stone to miss a beat, because how could she not? There are far too many high points for an actress as young as Stone to hit. However, Stone doesn’t show a single weakness throughout the course of the film, drifting from strength to strength. She sells us early on with her dry sense of humour, handling sarcastic quips with ease. Easy A is the kind of film built on quotes and Stone gives them the power that they need to survive in the cinematic archives. However, there is more to her sarcasm than we have any right to expect. Most actresses can handle the dry comedy that comes with the high school girl role, but few can quite keep the emotional back-story burning as brightly as Stone manages here. As she trades witty remarks with her ‘just-as-sarcastic’ parents, we see the conflict of the previous scene behind her bright, earnest eyes. As she turns on her best friend, we hear the heartbreak in her insults. It makes the later scenes where Emma Stone is asked to all too briefly adopt true emotion, leaving comedy at the door for a moment, that it isn’t too a big a leap to ask for. We do not need a build-up to the emotional monologue, because Emma has been doing that from the very first line of the film Even more impressively, she saves the films few flaws from turning into movie-destroying black holes. The movie ends on an ironic musical number, briefly running back to the 80s homages it has been doing so well at avoiding for the rest of the movie, and I personally could have done without the indulgent turn from director Gluck. However, Emma Stone’s confidence keeps the boat from rocking and as a result, the film drifts to a strong close. Yes, Easy A is definitely the movie where we all realised just how strong an actress Emma Stone was.
But that makes it out as though this movie an one-woman show. Yes, Emma Stone will be the factor you spend all your after-analysing talking about, but it is the movie as a whole that makes Easy A a holistic success. The supporting stars are strong, even if they are given so little to do. Penn Badgley’s love interest is side-lined too long in the opening half of the film. Malcolm McDowell is only given half a character. Even the stronger stars like Thomas Haden Church’s amusing English teacher, Stanley Tucci’s alternative father figure and Dan Byrd’s gay friend give good turns but are lost in the rush of the story. It is the story at the heart of Easy A that is left to impress and it really does. For a long time, it works on being likeable. Emma Stone’s invisible high school girl lies about losing her virginity to impress her best friend and the rumour spreads out of control. Stone, enjoying the brief spell of popularity, does little to change the rumour. Cue confessing to Dan Byrd, an old friend who is struggling about hiding his sexuality in school. He convinces Olive Penderghast, already thought to be a sexually active person, to make a lie about sleeping with him to help him escape the bullying from his classmates. The lies eventually spread out of control to the point where she finds herself trapped in a self-destructive cycle. The message is clear. Image is everything in high school and even if you are not, in Easy A’s own terms, an adulterer; if you come across as one, you will be treated like one. The message can also be flipped on its head, the moral of the story addressed to the supporting cast who harshly judge Olive’s personality, without ever wondering what burdens she faces. The story cleverly references Olive as a person, that perhaps cares too much. Every time she builds on her lie, she does it to help someone else. She rescues her gay friend from bullying, she saves a marriage… Deep down, Olive Penderghast is a caring person, who is so determined to help those around her, she ends up letting her own social life fall apart in her struggles of heroism. It means that no matter where the character goes, you always feel your heartstrings pulled at, when the story doesn’t go her way. Easy A is one of those rare successes that make movie-making look so easy, its strong points coming across so casually that it is easy to miss how amazing the production truly is.
Final Verdict: Emma Stone is fantastic, but it is the movie as a whole that really hits home to how great Easy A really is.