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Easy A

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // December 21, 2010 // Region 0
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 20, 2010 | E-mail the Author
Oh! Wait. I wasn't reading all that closely. Turns out this isn't that NWA biopic that's been floating around. I was gonna say, as much I like Emma Stone, I don't think I'd cast her as the lead in that. No, this is the story of...well:

I get it. Olive (Emma Stone) doesn't want to suffer through a weekend camping with her bee-eff-eff Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) and her folks. 'Sbad enough they named their kid after a Fleetwood Mac song, but stoner nudist hippie types who scarf down patchouli burgers...? Pass. To try to sneak away from that whole thing, Olive pretends she has a smoldering hot date with some guy her older brother pals around with at school. Plus it helps Olive cover for the fact that she actually winds up spending all weekend sewing, painting her doggy's fingernails, and rocking out to a Natasha Bedingfield musical greeting card deal. Olive has a way-too-elaborate story worked out about her fake date, but Rhiannon reads through the fake lines and thinks her buddy did the dance of the four-legged spouting walrus...that she got her hole punched...that her cranberry bog has been harvested, if you know what I mean. Olive's never gone all the way with a dude before, and Rhiannon's never been taken by the wind or rang like a bell through the night either. No, the furthest Rhi has gone is getting motorboated outside a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Anyway, scandal!!!! Olive not-screwing a guy who doesn't exist: it's just a little white lie to a lifelong buddy. What's the worst that can happen?

Well, if the answer
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were "not much!", then this'd be a pretty short and uneventful flick. Turns out that an obnoxious twit (Amanda Bynes) who thumps the fire-and-brimstone parts of the Bible but not so much the "love thy fellow man" bits overheard the whole thing. Word of Olive getting oyled spreads fast, and overnight, she goes from Anonymous Olive to becoming That Chick Who Puts Out. Olive has never been desperate for attention, but still, having been ignored pretty much her entire life, she's kind of digging a little newfound infamy. Her friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) wants to ride that wave too. Everyone at school thinks Brandon's gay -- and yeah, he really is -- and he catches endless amounts of hell for it. He sees Olive's spreadeagle reputation as a backlit exit sign outta all that torment. If she'll pretend they've had pop-pop, everyone'll think he's a stud. Y'know, get Olive on her back and the bullies'll be off his. The word of this starts spreading too: the cool kids hear what happened and the less-cool kids hear what didn't. Every outcast in Ojai is tossing gift cards in Olive's locker to bribe her into pretending that she's got a brand-new pair of rollerskates and that they've got a brand new key if you know what I oh, I already made that joke. As Olive starts to get more and more notorious, she decides to own it, wearing pretty much nothing but bustiers to school and sewing a bright red "A" on every one of 'em. You know, like in that old book! The book where Demi Moore had a terrible British accent and took lots of baths! Madcap hijinks ensue.

Easy A is the first screenplay of Bert V. Royal's to be produced, and you can tell right off the bat that this isn't a writer who's had the rules of movie-making stomped into him. Easy A doesn't really settle into the usual comfortable, familiar formulas. For one, there isn't a moustache-twirling villain this time around: no bitchy head cheerleader or double-digit-IQ starting quarterback that are terrorizing our plucky heroine type. It looks like Amanda Bynes is gonna play that part as an overbearing Bible-thumper who tries to make Olive the poster girl for teenage whoredom, and then there's a guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) with some dark, sticky secrets, but nope, not too much. The main badnik is more abstract than that...y'know, Puritanical hypocrisy. If a girl in high school -- at least in movie-high-school -- hasn't had her cherry popped, she's a prude. If she has, she's a slut. There's no winning. Olive and company are tooling around in the same hypersexualized world a lot of us are -- where sex is glamourized, portrayed as much of an essential function of everyday life as eating, drinking, or Facebook-ing, but stigmatized and audible-gasp-don't-talk-about-that! at the same time. Easy A doesn't hop up on a soapbox and bark about what your take on all that oughtta be, but the message is certainly that these sorts of double standards are ridiculous.

The other thing standing in Olive's way is...well, Olive. I devour enough movies doing this whole reviewing thing that I'm used to characters pretty much just being ciphers. They're there to be nudged around by the plot, to coax a specific reaction outta whoever it is that's staring at the TV, or clumsily deliver a highlighted-and-quadruple-underlined moral message. Olive, meanwhile, is a character in the truest and most pure sense. It feels like the movie's there to serve her rather than the other way around. She starts off as an outsider who's pretty much universally ignored, but Olive is too overflowing with confidence to ever be mopey or downbeat about it. Still, when she's thrust into the limelight, Olive basks in the glow of her notoriety. She grabs hold of it, cranks up the volume, and yanks off the knob. Maybe she didn't start spreading that nasty little rumor, but she sure as hell perpetuates it. There's also a juggling act of it being self-serving -- reveling in finally being noticed after all these years -- while also wanting to help some of her fellow outsiders get a taste of notoriety. Of course, infamy eventually turns to ostracism, and Olive clues in that just because she's not
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really having sex doesn't mean she's not whoring herself.

Ack. Easy A is such a clever, endlessly funny movie that I'm wincing at how much this review is starting to read like an essay, but I can't help but marvel at how smartly written it is. Easy A clocks in at 92 minutes but screams ahead so quickly it feels as if it's maybe half that. There's not a single wasted moment. The supporting cast is constantly revolving -- Olive hardly ever shares the frame with the same folks for more than a couple of scenes in a row -- and that keeps everything feeling fresh and energetic. The ensemble is straight across the board brilliant, especially Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's parents. It's an immediate check in the "WIN!" column to cast two such immeasurably talented actors in those parts, and they're both really well-written to boot. They're the perfect parents, really: they're both lugging around spectacular, scene-stealing senses of humor, they're so sharp and charming that you can kinda tell where Olive gets it from, and they're supportive without being overbearing. I can't say I'd complain if they were my folks, and it's great that Olive appreciates 'em too. The romantic angle in Easy A comes in dribbles, and it's one of very few high school comedies I've stumbled across with no break-up-to-make-up. Y'know, every one of these movies shoehorns in an unlikely love story that starts to bubble, then there's some kind of betrayal or whatever that splits them apart, and one of 'em makes a jumbo-sized romantic gesture in the climax to win the other one back. Not here! Heck, you barely even get to know the guy that Olive is crushing on. The story's not about's about her.

...and Emma Stone! When movie critic types
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ramble on about a "breakthrough performance!", this is pretty much what they're talking about. I've thought for a while now that Stone has a knack for taking a small-ish part and making it way more memorable than anyone else could have or would have, and the combination of her talent and such a wonderfully written role...? Shimmery, sparkly gold. I love seeing a lead who's bright and confident rather than another standard issue sullen teenager, and she just radiates it at all don't need clunky exposition to define it or have other characters yak about how splendiferous she is. At the same time, she's still young and inexperienced enough to get herself waist-deep in a pretty nasty mess, and just as she'd seized hold of her infamy in the first place, Olive owns up to her mistakes and sets out to fix 'em herself. Again, not much in the way of revelatory heart-to-hearts or overwrought monologues to get there either.

Doesn't hurt that Olive is so hysterically snarky either. I had a doofy smile plastered across my face throughout pretty much every frame of Easy A, and it's one of those movies I'd like to pretend I could write if, had any talent. The dialogue is brilliantly clever but in a way that still sounds natural...not like a lot of hyper-mega-glib stuff that reads well on the page but not so much when an actor's standing in front of a camera. The comedy can get really meta too, riffing on twentysomethings old enough to have Masters degrees being cast as high schoolers, the "Yo, Teach!" cool teacher type who sylla-busts some rhymes about American lit, her knowledge of Catholic confession thingies being limited to what she's picked up from movies, wanting her life to be so much like a John Hughes '80s flick that she finds a way to throw in a completely unjustifiable song-and-dance number near the end... I laughed. A lot, even. I also love that the comedy doesn't lean on lazy pop culture references, so it'll still be brilliant ten or fifteen years down the line too.

Between The Loop, the way-too-underappreciated Fired Up!, and Easy A, director Will Gluck has made his way onto my Christmas card list. My hypothetical Christmas card list, anyway. I mean, I don't think I could get a card out to L.A. in time for the holidays right now. I really, really dug this movie, which is easily the best high school comedy to come down the pike since Mean Girls and is honestly a leg up over that one too. What's not to like? Pitch-perfect casting. Ridiculously clever writing. Stars a bunch of girls but isn't a chick flick. Actual ::gasp!:: depth to some of these characters. Packing a genuine heart to match its sense of humor. Do you have any idea what level of genius is required to get a huge laugh out of a 70-year-old adaptation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a lawnmower? Easy A nails it. Geez, with a pun like that, I guess I should just slap on an emboldened, italicized Highly Recommended and see what other damage I can do.

Easy A looks pretty much perfect in high-def. The flick was shot digitally with the Panavision Genesis camera, so there obviously isn't any film grain to fret about if you live in mortal terror of that sort of thing. As you'd expect with the Genesis, the photography is spectacularly clean, clear, and richly detailed throughout. Its palette is rather bright and sunny this time around too. I couldn't spot any intrusive video noise at all, and this presentation on Blu-ray veers away from any clunky digital noise reduction, edge enhancement, or hiccups with the compression. I mean, the webcam sequences are deliberately blocky and compressed, and the snippets from other movies look really rough, but it really ought to go without saying that this is intentional, and no artifacting ever creeps in anywhere else. C'mon, open the screenshots I've scattered around this whole thing. I've got nothing but nice things to say, which is kinda what you hope for with a shiny, newly-minted Blu-ray disc.

Rambling technical bullet points! Dual-layer disc. Faint letterboxing to preserve its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Healthy AVC encode.

This DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (24-bit! 5.1!) is kinda low-key but suits the movie wonderfully. I mean, it's a high school comedy about not having sex: there's no need for hyperaggressive split-surrounds, flashy pans, or an unrelentingly savage low-end. I'd say it's better than average for a comedy, tho'. There's a real effort in the sound design to make environments like the high school, Not-Red Lobster, and the house party sound vibrant and alive, bolstered by all sorts of splashes of atmospheric color in the surrounds. The design also takes advantage of the multichannel setup for a few other effects, such as an extended barrage of whip pans as well as Olive raiding her closet. Bass response is pretty healthy, reinforcing the score particularly well. The stack of licensed music -- including songs by the likes of The Dollyrots and Miniature Tigers! -- all comes through very nicely too. The dialogue has a sparkling sheen to it, and it's never once drowned out in the mix. I really don't have any gripes at all, so once again, nothing but gold stars and yellow smiley stickers.

Easy A piles on two other DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks: one in French and the other in Portuguese. There's also a Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish dub along with an English descriptive video service track. The list of subtitles includes streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

  • Audio Commentary: First to bat is this commentary track with Emma Stone
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    and director Will Gluck. It's another one of those oddball cases where I really enjoyed listening to the commentary, but I didn't find myself scribbling down all that many highlights. The two of 'em are really personable, witty, and self-deprecating, so you do get stuff like Gluck belting out a plus-sized Malcolm McDowell impression, Stone quipping about who'd replace her if she fell in the line of duty, and Stone's mighty struggles to pronounce "". They also talk about having to hire a staff of lobster wranglers, Stone not wanting to subject an auditorium full of extras to her singing, the Laverne and Shirley-dom of Olive's "A", and how much Stone adores eating on camera. It's fun but kinda frothy, and there are a couple of long lulls in the conversation. Not an essential listen and probably best left playing in the background.

  • Pop-Up Trivia Track: ...and hey, an excuse to watch the movie again! I really like the quippy tone of Easy A's trivia track. There's some overlap with the audio commentary, such as pointing out that there are oranges in pretty much every scene and that Olive's weekend obsession with a musical greeting card stems from Will Gluck's kids doing the same with a magazine. My name is Judge! Other things from the writers' lives are pointed out here, like how swapping out a mascot can boost (or annihilate?) school spirit and noting which scene it was where Gluck lost his jacket. Want to know what "Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe" on the foreign flick marquee means? Need "grist" defined or a quick bio of Sylvia Plath? How 'bout the etymology of "infamy"? Lotsa stuff like that in here. My usual plan of attack is to play a trivia track and an audio commentary at the same time, but with the way these pop-up bubbles are authored, I couldn't do that here. That's kind of a drag.

  • The Making of Easy A (14 min.; HD): Wow! A making-of that's actually about the making of the movie and not an electronic press kit! A featurette that doesn't heap on oodles and oodles of clips from the flick! That's always nice to see. This is easily the best extra -- and really, the only great one -- on the disc. Among the topics of conversation are how quickly the screenplay was written, how drastically it was changed after being picked up, the Russian nested doll bent to Emma Stone playing a character who herself is playing a character, lining up the ensemble cast, everyone in Olive's family being named after stuff in the pantry, Emma Stone having a not-really-an-aesthma attack after jumping on a bed for seven hours, leaving her wearing a skintight cheetah print dress and an oxygen mask...pretty great all around.

  • Vocabulary of Hilarity (5 min.; HD): This featurette swirls around Easy A's dialogue...the way it's artfully crass, keeping the raunchy stuff PG-13 friendly, striking a balance between clever and realistic, and launching pre-emptive strikes on at the movie's made-up vulgarity. Also, I learned I can't spell "chlamydia" after all. Maybe that's a good thing.

  • The School of Pop Culture: Movies of the Eighties (5 min.; HD): I guess I was expecting there to be more than five minutes of "Olive loves John Hughes' comedies, and so do we!!!!!",, not really. There's
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    very briefly some chatter about why these movies have endured and pointing out some of the homages to 'em in Easy A, but there's not much to it.

  • Gag Reel (5 min.; SD): Tit jokes! Cougaresque flirting! Hair stroking! Impromptu dancing! A slapping montage! Tumbling over! Cracking up! Yup, it's a gag reel.

  • Emma Stone Audition Footage (19 min.; SD): It's mentioned in some of the other extras that after Stone auditioned for Easy A, she was asked to head home and record herself on a webcam to sell how those scenes'd play. That's on here along with heavily aliased footage of Stone diving into a few scenes while auditioning.

  • movieIQ: Finally, this optional widget that runs throughout Easy A identifies the actors and songs in each chapter. You can grab cast filmographies and little nuggets of trivia while you're at it too.

No slipcovers or digital copies here. Easy A does have some BD Live connectivity, but aside from the movieIQ thing, there's nothing lurking online that has anything to do with the flick itself.

The Final Word
Endlessly witty and almost supernaturally brilliantly cast, Easy A picks up where Mean Girls left off and somehow manages to be even smarter and funnier while it's at it. This is a heart-shaped Valentine to everything you loved about John Hughes' onslaught of high school comedies, updated for the here and now in the best possible way. Boy, girl, high school sophomore, middle-aged business type...Easy A doesn't pick a target demographic to pander to, so anyone of any age that grew up with The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles oughtta love this. So, yeah: Highly Recommended.
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