Review: Easy A Marks the Beginning of the Stone Age

First and foremost, I'd like to immediately submit my application to join the family portrayed in Easy A. If accepted, I'd have an adorable adopted kid brother, Stanley Tucci would be my doting pops, and Patricia Clarkson would fill the bill as my clever and biting mom -- this is a world I could enjoy inhabiting. They parry Emma Stone's every attempt at the doldrums, they enjoy dynamic wordplay games, they watch a movie together on the couch. If the whole film had been about their dynamic we were looking at an A+, easy, without even breaking a sweat. Alas.

As the trailer indicates, Easy A is the story of a high school student named Olive (Emma Stone). She's a good girl, friendly and approachable and seemingly above the typical teenage drama. Naturally, this can't last. Olive makes a crucial mistake at the outset of the film, conversationally acquiescing to a crazy friend of hers in a public bathroom an occurrence that is unfortunately overheard by the school's moral (nutjob) compass. Next, she's coerced into doing a friend a favor based on the rumors already flying around about her. This results in her being ground up and run over by the rumor mill. She's branded as "easy" and instead of disputing the charges she decides to accept the accusations. She throws a scarlet letter on her lapel and calls it a win. So far, so good, and the first half of the film is easy, breezy, scarlet letter girl. There's nothing to suggest Emma Stone isn't headed for big things, and in fact she does her best to salvage a few questionable elements which we'll break down somewhere around paragraph four.

But let's get to the good news first. Easy A is strong on multiple fronts. It has a solid indie soundtrack (which, amazingly in this world of easy commerce, is not available for purchase) and a great sense of comic timing. The laughs are plentiful. It's a smarter, stranger brand of laugh -- more akin to 30 Rock and Arrested Development than Paul Blart: Mall Fool. It definitely shares a pedigree with Mean Girls, capturing the oddball world that is high school existence, where everything is magnified because everyone has far too much free time. Thomas Haden Church is very fun as one of Stone's teachers; his big scowls and quick one-liners give the film comic clarity. Not so great is Lisa Kudrow, but that's only because she's thrown in halfway through and asked to play a relentlessly irredeemable guidance counselor.

Which is precisely where things start going slightly off-kilter for the film. Easy A is a bit too victim-centric for my liking, with Olive's lack of backbone placed front and center throughout most of the running time. She's branded a harlot for actions she didn't commit -- but she keeps the ruse up past all reasonable expectation, all the while adding to her own pain and misery. She's complicit with her attackers, and a spineless protagonist isn't anyone's version of interesting. This film probably would have failed with an actor not named Emma Stone, and it's a credit to her winning and sunny disposition that the illogical plot direction doesn't come off as miserable for the audience as well.

Still, Easy A is a film worth a watch. Smart comedy is hard to come by these days, and this one moves along at a brisk pace. After the 20 minutes or so of downtime the film ends well, and there are numerous homages and references to the iconic romantic films of our culture. This is a movie that knows its place in the world, not too self-important or overbearing. See it to get in on the ground level of Stone fandom, or for the boisterous musical offerings presented throughout. Or because you need a laugh or two. Wear this letter if you're into that sort of thing, whatever your motivations, I'm not here to judge.

Grade: B-

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