As the heroine of “Easy A” states bluntly midway through the subversive teen flick: life isn’t directed by John Hughes, the maestro behind the 1980s teen movie golden era.
Where “Easy A” truly succeeds is in successfully walking the tightrope between paying homage to Hughes’ classic and endlessly imitated studies of teenage angst, like “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” and making fun of them.
Emma Stone plays Olive, a razor-sharp high school sarcasm machine whose irreverent but surprisingly insightful brand of humor is lost on her peers, making her the center of little attention in her picturesque California high school.
One day, Olive is approached by her friend Brandon, who is constantly bullied for being gay. They both devise a plan in which Olive pretends to deflower Brandon in a very sordid and very public behind-closed-doors scene at a party.
This effectively ends Brandon’s ridicule and brands Olive as the school’s hallway streetwalker. She begins a lucrative business of claiming to have slept with the school’s horde of virginal misfits in exchange for gift cards.
Of course, this is high school in the Facebook generation, where the rumor mill moves as quickly as it takes to hit the send key on a smart phone. Olive quickly becomes regarded as the school tramp. She turns this usually dire situation into an act of defiance against her information-overloaded peers, letting them believe in her ruse while gaining a sense of empowerment from her new found notoriety.
It is clear from the opening scene that “Easy A” is a snarky satire aimed at teen comedies’ reliance on appearances. Olive goes as far as turning to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” for inspiration, gleefully sewing red felt A’s on her clothes to further raise eyebrows.
Even as the burden of Olive’s scandalized reputation starts bearing down on her – prompting the viewer to expect a grand confession of her deceit at a school dance followed by instant understanding from her classmates – the film wisely sidesteps what is expected of other works in this genre and leaves the audience with an honest smirk rather than forced sentimentality.
Stone shines as Olive, delivering her smart-aleck dialogue with ease and gusto. She is followed by a very strong supporting cast including Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, who steal every scene they are in as Olive’s hilariously too-hip and self-aware parents. Amanda Bynes brings in many of the film’s laughs playing the school’s resident evangelist in a mini-skirt.
“Easy A” is the perfect antidote to the intelligence-insulting lowbrow teen comedies of late by bringing in a healthy dose of both brains and laughs.