Watching the high school-set comedy "Easy A" was a progressive experience, much like being a teenager. I started off not liking it (I thought the dialogue was rushed, the scenario a bit forced), even considered switching it off, but then the film started to grow on me, working some certain kind of charm. Before long, unexpectedly, I actually smiled, and even (once or twice) laughed out loud. I ended up falling a bit in love with this movie, so much so that - by the end - I was even cheering on the brilliantly conceived end credits that line themselves up along the roadside, and that's, surely - a bit of a result! From an F to an A (or maybe more a B+) in round about 92 minutes.
The film is a fairly raunchy (at times - but it's not a gross-out teen comedy at all) romp-com, without the boring old 'rom' bit (though there's a bit of it about at the end). That'll do me. It's also the first High School-set film about losing your virginity in which (unlike American Pie in which everyone does) nobody loses their virginity by the end, though the lead actress says she might do, or may even just have done so - she's way too cool for school to tell us!
Easy A tells the cautionary tale of wise-cracking literature student Olive (kind of a cross between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Lindsay Lohan back when they were of High School age) and a happily single girl to boot (although, you suspect, she wouldn't mind having a boyfriend if anyone actually offered - but so far, none have; the closest she ever got to anything remotely passionate was a faked snog with a boy in a bedroom while her friends waited outside, when she was around the age of 11), who ends up telling a lie about a new sexual conquest she's just started conquesting to get out of going along with a best friend's holiday (we all know the feeling!).
The fallout from the lie gets steadily worse.. She has to fake sex with a gay friend (punching him in the stomach to get that 'orgasmic finish') to christen her alibi which leads to all the desperate boys around school starting to offer her rewards for nights of 'I had pretend sex with Olive' (these include free tickets to world cinema clubs with subtitled films showing all night long and DIY store vouchers - gee thanks guys!). Some girls fake orgasms - but Olive fakes the whole sex act thing. Really too well.
Of course, what started out as quite funny, soon goes badly wrong for Olive; the gossip gets cruel and the tears, when they flow - are of the best tragi-comic kind and look almost too real for a comedy like this, however quirky a filmscape we find ourselves in. Olive's life starts to resemble the plot of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a book she is studying in class. I wonder how many fans of this movie went out and read the book, like the fans of American Pie went out and bought Aunt Bessie's frozen apple pies - or was that just me? There are many (not always funny, to be fair) references to the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter not being as good as the classic black and white film versions of old.
Olive seems to like the fact her life spiralls out of control into debauched humiliation at first - much like it did to the heroine of the novel. She even tells her lecturer that her life of pretend sin is a way to experience the novel and understand it - she even starts dressing up in revealing bodices and black stockings to complete the Demi Moore look! I thought this was a pretty good idea for a University project - to ask students to act out the scenes from the novels they are studying, to get to understand them better. I would suggest similar practical 'work experience' is added to the curriculum for all English Lit students everywhere. Actually, joking apart, I thought that this idea in the movie, was a strong, quite unique plot device, that could develop into similar films with different novels being explored as part of the curriculum. Imagine students of A Clockwork Orange going out and ...oh hang on, I think that's why Stanley Kubrick banned the film version of this in the UK for so long. Forget that!
Olive is obsessed with The Scarlet Letter but her life is also (she hopes, or wishes) the plot of an 80's John Hughes comedy, and of course there are references to the likes of Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Can't Buy Me Love (1987) to back this up; mainly her fantasy world consists of being serenaded to a Simple Minds song, sung by a muscular bloke in a muscle tee riding a lawnmower. Olive's Mum and Dad also obsess about movies, and hold themed nights at home that the children have to attend, a popular choice being the Jack Nicholson/ Morgan Freeman 'two old men with cancer go on the road to find themselves and do everything they always wanted to do but so far haven't' movie; The Bucket List (2007). The level of excitement in Dad (played by a creepily-caring Stanley Tucci) is almost orgasmic. Even if you hate Easy A, as a film fan, you'll probably love the references to other (and some may say 'better') movies. You may hate it too.
The film's script, from Burt V. Royal, is mostly cool and slightly subversive, if at times a little obvious and treading safe water (far too many film references weakening the strength of this movie's uniqueness) and his script dabbles often with the unexpected: an overweight geek tells Olive that she wouldn't have gove out with him anyway after he gets a bit too frisky, almost aggressive, with her - only for Olive to tell him that 'she might have, she just wouldn't now', causing the boy's jaw to drop. Such moments turn expectations of a standard teen sex comedy unexpectedly around and there are many nice flourishes similar to this throughout.
Direction from Will Gluck is inventive too; fresh and fruity, and sometimes (such as the moment when a cast member with a very minor role in a scene looks around towards camera astounded when one of the church group girls about to sing for Olive's soul says something especially silly and his wild-eyed expression is quickly, hilariously focused on) - inspired. A scene where Olive struts alongside the swimming pool in tiny hotpants, exuding cool, and having boys fall over in awe, is also clever and sexy without being obviously leering - it's shot from a 'man leering but trying not to appear to be doing so's' point of view, almost as if we are watching from behind a deckchair, then moving along to another, and another, just to get a better view!
Well known faces including Lisa Kudrow (Friends) as a sex-starved (and paying the cost for a snack) school counsellor and Malcolm McDowell (from 'If...' and 'A Clockwork Orange' no less) as the rather threatening and probably psychotic (but McDowell always looks threatening and psychotic, even when in a kid's movie) Principal Gibbons, turn up and take the wage (though Kudrow actually, at times, really gives us quite a sorrowful, memorable character). There's strong support too from Olive's family, especially Patricia Clarkson as the potty-mouthed, 'so laid back she's on the carpet', 70's-stuck-and-proud, sex advice-sharing 'mom' - but it's clearly young star Emma Stone's movie to play around with. Stone is endearingly attention-seeking, delightfully quirky, especially pretty and often rather razor-tongued, dagger-eyed cruel - no wonder this actress is about to step up a few rungs in the fame game with a starring role in The Amazing Spider-Man later this year (as Spidey's own High School 'not so Easy A' crush, Gwen), having also starred in Oscar-nominated The Help last year and given us a memorable horror star turn as Wichita in 2009's brilliant Woody Harrelson-starring zany zombie flick - Zombieland.
From Z-grade zombies to A-grade arachnids via The Scarlet Letter- Emma Stone deserves all the gossip she's getting.
Words - Mark Gordon Palmer