If Easy A makes one thing abundantly clear, it’s that Emma Stone has what it takes to be a big fat star. It remains to be seen how much range or depth she has, but because of her natural charisma, effortless confidence, and ego-less accessibility, she should have quite a few chances to explore and find out.
Easy A purports to be a high school set adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, but that’s really one of the film’s most embarrassing and egregious stumbles. First of all, as a society we’re way past the point that someone is going to be ostracized for less than puritanical behavior. Olive’s sexual escapades don’t make her reviled by the student body; in fact, she sees a large upward spike in her popularity. Never mind the fact that the escapades are all fictional. And, of course, there’s the simple fact that she’s an unmarried teenager, and as such, adultery has nothing to do with anything. So the very fact that she brands herself with a scarlet A sewn on to her clothing Betty and Veronica-style (or Laverne, if you’re a television fan) seems to beg the fact that high school students today don’t know what adultery is, or actually read the books assigned to them in school. Which is odd since Olive is supposed to be a good student, and one who has actually read the book. All of this may be nitpicking, and most audiences may not have an issue with it, but I’d also bet that most audiences would be hard-pressed to explain The Scarlet Letter or to try to explain exactly how Easy A is attempting to riff on it and how and why it misses its target. If there’s one fault I have with the film, it’s simply the way that it plays so fast and loose with this literary allusion in a nonsensical way that will likely encourage teenagers not to question or understand what they’re reading or watching. It’s not simply The Scarlet Letter “because, y’know, she’s wearing an A on her chest.”
The other element Easy A constantly references, to its detriment, are 80s teen comedies, specifically John Hughes’ movies. The constant comparison to those movies can really only work against Easy A. First of all, it just reeks of glad-handing, attempting to reference something else to realize some kind of quality or achievement by association. And even though those films are teen comedies, they’ve become classics of sorts. With the case of something like Can’t Buy Me Love, that’s a movie probably remembered quite affectionatley simply because no one’s seen it in twenty years; so when you beg a comparison with it, you’re unfairly setting that comparison against a fondly remembered and now-idealized version of it in audiences’ heads that likely exceeds the actual thing. In the end, all of this referencing and setting of comparisons can only work against Easy A, which is an entertaining enough movie that it would have been much better off simply standing on its own and sticking to its own story, in its own universe, without referencing all of these other things and pulling focus away from itself.
Easy A is at its best during the scenes between Olive and her parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. Tucci and Clarkson are friends in real life, and there’s a natural, playful, infectious sense of fun between them. Not only is it entertaining to watch, but you can see Emma Stone rising right up to their level and taking a lot of lessons from their approach to acting. Also worthy of note is Dan Byrd, who plays the first of Olive’s pseudo-lays, a high school kid forever being bullied because the straight crowd knows there’s something up with him, even if they’re too dense to figure out that he’s definitively gay. Byrd masterfully captures a kid at that age who approaches the effeminate yet not the stereotypical, and who obviously longs to be himself more than he’s allowed to be, yet who can also pretend to be straight enough to fit in when he truly wants to. In addition to the character work, there’s genuine emotional truth to the performance, and Easy A is a smart enough film to include bits of it and not gloss right past it in an effort to keep the pace clipping along. Byrd is certainly a young actor to watch, and it’s a joy to see him hit the sincere emotional truth of the character and then turn around and elicit genuine laughs with some of the goofier comedy.
The script is a mixed bag, but the real strength behind the material is director Gluck, who has a real ease with actors. He’s able to get uniformly multi-faceted performances across the board; his actors have obviously been given the confidence to live in certain emotional moments, while also having the ease and freedom for the comedy to breathe and be organic. It’s the combination of the two co-existing that really helps the movie to rise above the trappings of its genre. Between the Hughes’ references and the Scarlet Letter mis-allusions, as well as some of the cutesy, audience-pandering bits and the stiffer parts of the story structure, it’s certainly not a great movie. But it’s light, frothy, genuine fun, and its entertainment value exceeds expectations. Part of that is Gluck, part of it is Tucci and Clarkson, but the movie sits squarely on Stone’s shoulders and she carries it effortlessly with an ease and natural ability that is surprisingly extraordinary. It’s no doubt that Hollywood perked up and took notice as a result, and that she’s now poised to be the next big thing.