I appreciate Easy A. I'm happy the movie exists, and I hope it finds its audience. However, I am not necessarily a member of that audience, which puts me in the challenging position of having to describe what's good and well-made about it (because, for the most part, it is clearly good and well-made) without letting my middling personal reaction (which has more to do with the movie's...personality, for lack of a better word, than anything about the way it was made) color it in.
Emma Stone plays Olive, an average anonymous high schooler who is fine with letting her social life run on autopilot, but might secretly like to be noticed by someone once in awhile. Things take a serious turn when Olive tells two lies to her best friend Rhi (Aly Michalka): first, a Friday-afternoon claim she has a date that will prevent her from going camping with Rhi's creepy parents, and second, a Monday-morning follow-up that her date turned into a torrid one night stand, a claim inadvertently made within earshot of the school's abstinence-friendly religious nut Marianne (Amanda Bynes). Thanks to Marianne, Olive's tryst becomes talk of the school, but it isn't until the following weekend that the rumor explodes, when Olive's gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) asks her to mock sleep with him as a word-of-mouth shield against homophobic bullies.
If there is an issue with Easy A that can be chalked up to director Will Gluck and writer Bert A. Royal, it's that the script feels like it has more moving parts than necessary. There are several ups and downs in Olive's story that might benefit from being condensed, re-arranged, and compressed; the film perpetually feels like it's entering the home stretch, then keeps on going. Obviously, I don't want the film to be dumbed down or thematically simplified (we've got enough movies pandering to the lowest common denominator, thanks very much, especially if you're talking teen sex comedies), but the whole movie feels like it's using five beats when it could use three. Bynes has it the worst: if Marianne is supposed to be the villain, she should play a more active role in Olive's troubles. Instead, she does her most pivotal act off-camera, and does over-the-top schtick for the rest of her screen time.
Still, the excessive nature of the film allows for numerous clever supporting turns. Thomas Haden Church desperately needs more screen time as Olive's favorite teacher. Lisa Kudrow knocks two scenes as a guidance counselor out of the park (I've only seen her in a few other movies, but this is easily her best performance). Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are ridiculous as Olive's mega-supportive parents, who are not meant to be comedians, but might as well be for how many jokes they tell. Only Fred Armisen and Malcolm McDowell are basically wasted; Armisen's cameo is too short to mean much of anything, and I honestly couldn't tell you why McDowell plays the principal in two entirely unremarkable scenes, other than that he was available, and perhaps local.
Emma Stone is the star, though, and while I felt her comic instincts might've been a little off in parts of Zombieland, she's on target here with an enthusiastic, charismatic performance, doing her very best to overcome terrible stylistic choices like breaking the fourth wall (the best thing I can say about the whole "talking-to-a-webcam" conceit is that at least in Easy A, the device is relevant to the plot). She also has good chemistry with Penn Badgley, which goes a long way to making the romance work (the movie barely has any time left over once all the plot machinations have had their say). The role offers her a range of opportunities, ranging from nice girl to tease and back again, with a note-perfect drunk ditz act to boot (if she doesn't bring this out again on "SNL" someday, the world is an unjust place).
Even more pertinent than Stone's performance, though, is how refreshingly liberated Easy A is. I may not have laughed all that often, but I was surprised by the frank sexuality the MPAA let fly unchecked in this movie. Sure, 90% of it is just talk, and 90% of that is talk about pretending, but the film still gets pretty down and dirty without losing its relative wholesomeness, and manages to do so without the dreaded "under 17 not admitted" tag. Given how exciting these elements must have been (the supporting cast, Stone, and the chance to touch on topics that are usually or clamped down on by the MPAA), it's no surprise that Easy A is overly enthusiastic, falling all over itself to give these things to the audience in as heavy helpings as possible. It's a delivery that grates on the nerves just a little bit, but I'll take an exhaustingly zealous pleasant movie over a limply uninspired one any day of the week.
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