I have to admit that I really do enjoy a good teen movie more than I probably should. (I also enjoy a bad teen movie more than I should but for incredibly different reasons. I’ve lost count of the number of Hilary Duff/Chad Michael Murray films I’ve drunkenly laughed my way through over the years.) I grew up on the films of John Hughes wishing I could be Molly Ringwald (only with less painfully 80s clothes) and hoping John Cusack would one day wind up outside my window playing something by the Spice Girls on a boombox. Alas, I never became Miss Ringwald and, to this day, I have never run to my window after hearing the opening bars of ‘2 Become 1’ to find John waiting for me. However, I remained true to the world of teen movies: despite the fact that teen movies became much worse than the masterpieces created during the 80s. (I so very nearly wrote “despite the fact that teen movies never remained true to me” but felt that would probably be a tad too melodramatic.)
Of course there are some that have stood out from the crowd and every once in a while along comes a truly inspired teen movie. The 90s had classics such as Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You and the 00s had Mean Girls. Easy A is another of those witty female-focused teen films, like Clueless and Mean Girls before it, which concerns itself with that most important high school issue: popularity. It tells the story of Olive Penderghast, a supposedly invisible social outcast, who gets caught up in a lie that quickly escalates and turns her reputation on its head. It all begins when Olive’s best friend pushes her to lie about losing her virginity to a college student. This lie is overheard by an extremely pious classmate who quickly spreads the scandalous gossip around her fellow students. Olive’s altruistic side sets in and she attempts to use her new found position as school hussy to help her fellow outcasts to find their way whilst further sullying her reputation.
The film takes a certain amount of inspiration from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter which, coincidentally, Olive and her classmates are studying in school. Whilst the likes of Clueless and 10 Things are modern adaptations of classic pieces of literature (Emma and Taming of the Shrew respectively), Easy A merely plays with similar themes to Hawthorne’s novel: namely hypocrisy, humiliation, conformity, social cowardice and individual goodness. In accepting her position as the school’s most talked about, Olive sews a red letter A onto her new stripper wardrobe and struts around school wearing it as a badge of honour. The literary reference is really neither here nor there but it does add an extra something to the staple teen comedy. The comparison between the literary figure of Hester Prynne and Olive takes the script from American Pie territory to something more akin to Mean Girls or Juno.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest thing about Easy A is Olive herself. Following in the footsteps of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, Emma Stone elevates this potentially forgettable comedy into something amazing. We have a film that captures John Hughes’ ability to showcase characters who you either want to be or be friends with. I spent a lot of this film wishing that, when I was her age, I had been in possession of even a tiny amount of Olive’s quick wittedness, self-awareness and confidence. She is the type of intelligent and strong female character that quickly brought Stone from supporting cast to major player, thanks to some memorable roles in the likes of Superbad and Zombieland. It is very difficult to dislike Stone as everything she does seems so wonderfully effortless. There can be no doubt that within this movie she is the true star.
Alongside her we are treated to incredibly performances by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson who play Olive’s equally hilarious and incredibly laid-back parents. The scenes that take place within the Penderghast home are delightful and refreshing in the midst of all of the high school gossip and scandal. These are the moments that provide the audience with the majority of laugh out loud moments and Tucci, in particular, is a great companion to Stone’s uber cool heroine.
Easy A is not perfect (fought the temptation to make a reference to A grade there but I’m not one to fall for such awful clichés and uninspired writing) and falls down thanks to its several lackluster subplots. I can forgive the romance between Olive and Lobster Todd (Penn Badgley) as it plays out to become a lovely homage to Hughesian teen romance and I’m always up for any casual reference to that scene in Say Anything. However, the story revolving around the stale marriage of two members of staff proves to be incredibly dull and doesn’t sit well within the tone and pace of the main narrative. It is shoehorned in to provide more interaction with adult figures but doesn’t serve much of a purpose and has little to add to the overall message. There was some hope in the fundamentalist Christian group headed up by teen movie regular Amanda Bynes but, again, I found this added little to the overall feel of the film. Admittedly it created another link to the source material at the heart of this tale but there was a distinct lack of social commentary to make it relevant. Alongside the infinitely cool Stone, Bynes’ strained and desperate portrayal of the tightly wound Marianne looks like something that has been copied and pasted from a lesser teen movie.
Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the heady heights that ultimate teen movie Clueless once did (OK I’m biased. I love Clueless. I’ll be forever jealous of Cher’s wardrobe database and uncanny knack of setting people up. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great teen movie.) but Easy A provides us with a well above average teen comedy. With its inspiring female lead and overall non-judgemental message about sex, we have a film that, despite all of the bitching and fast-spreading gossip, actually has a pretty positive message. It’s something that I missed on its initial release after mistakenly taking it to be a fairly standard affair but it’s definitely worth a watch. That is if you can actually suspend your disbelief enough to accept that a bunch of high school students could fail to notice Emma Stone (oh, hello there new and obsessive girl crush).