EASY A. Starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Patricia Clarkson, and Stanley Tucci. Directed by Will Gluck. Rated M (Frequent sexual references). 92 min.
This comedy-romance film brings Emma Stone into a starring role in her own right, after she made her first feature comedy debut in the 2007 film, “Superbad.” Here, she plays the role of Olive, a girl nobody much notices at East Ojai High School in California, USA, who one day does a favour for a gay friend by pretending to have sex with him. The word gets around and other males, most of them unable to form relationships with the opposite sex for a whole number of reasons, including bullying, obesity, and colour, come looking for solace and comfort. Olive senses she can use the situation to her advantage, and she quickly develops the reputation of someone with easy virtue. Her situation brings her notoriety, extra money for favours not actually given, and makes her the envy of her class. Suddenly she is noticed and wanted by those around her. Olive wears her new-found status with pride, and emblazons her reputation by wearing the letter “A” (for adulterer) on her chest, after the fashion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic work of romantic fiction, “The scarlet letter,” which she has studied in class. Olive eventually wins the heart of her childhood sweetheart (Penn Badgley) by convincing him that she has not had sex with anyone. She makes a public disclosure of everything on Face-book for everyone to see, and so finally escapes from the web of lies that has been enveloping her.
Despite this rather off-putting theme, the movie has some positive social messages. Others too quickly believe what they want to believe and one shouldn’t judge people for what is thought to be done. People can be discriminated for being different – gay, overweight or black, for example - and innocent people can suffer. But sex is all right with anyone, so long as you want it, and this makes it a risky movie for the young to see. Its messages reduce sex to a commodity to play for the sake of enhancing reputation, and there is a bite in what follows from doing that.
If one focuses on the film’s messages about trust, belief, acceptance and respect for privacy, there is a lot of sharp comedy in the routines shown along the way. The one-liners come quick and fast in very sharp scripting. Reference is made to the Bible, for instance as being up with the best sellers, next to “Twilight.” The movie shows effectively what it is like to be an outcast, and Amanda Stone is excellent as Olive. Amanda Bynes gives good support as her friend, and Olive’s parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) are almost always funny to watch, as they go about giving their daughter complete love and support in a totally eccentric way.
This will be a popular movie for teens. Its pace is quick, and the direction by Will Gluck is snappy. Many of its social messages are sound, but unfortunately, this makes you think less carefully about other things you see and hear in the film. Relationships are not there to be manipulated for self-interested reasons, sex shouldn’t be used as a tool to help others, and one should avoid the film’s facile stereotyping of gays and Christians.
One’s smiling along with the movie might lead to a certain degree of self-reflection, but the movie has its moments, which are mostly due to witty, adult scripting, and good acting by Emma Stone as Olive.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out Sept. 17, 2010.