"Easy A" is kind of a minor miracle. Every shred of evidence indicated it would be another forgettable teen sex comedy; common sense should have kept me away. And yet, thanks to my self-regimented diversity quota (recommended), I inadvertently purchased a ticket to one of the goofiest, most effortlessly charming, surprisingly irreverent, and original satires in years—After all, it isn’t everyday you see a sex comedy about imaginary sex.
But "Easy A" treads tired ground in a pair of flashy high heels; its unique spin on the subject of high school promiscuity doesn’t condescend, nor does it overstate its relevance. Rather, the film manages to humorously capture the social enormity of sex without being explicit, perverse, or preachy. Quite the contrary. Olive (Emma Stone), our intelligent, precocious, and often glib protagonist turns the genre on its head, detailing her “rumor-filled and totally false account” of how she became the classroom slut.
What follows is an unusually forward riff on gossip in the information age and bizarro prostitution, whereby a white lie in the ladies’ restroom wheels its way through the rumor mill, only to come out a geyser on the other end. Olive’s notoriety for an alleged sexual encounter prompts the school’s desperate male denizens to bolster their own reputations through tales of carnal exploits with her—Boasting rights for which she receives hundreds of dollars (price negotiable according to the agreed-upon fiction) in Gap or Office Max gift certificates.
The sharp sense of humor and amusing social commentary really cannot be undervalued in an age where the foremost discussion of sexuality for teenage girls is in "Twilight." "Easy A" ultimately adopts a populist ‘when you’re ready’ sentiment in regards to sex, but its best quality is its consistent tonal levity. The film makes light of licentiousness, sexual orientation, religion, parenting, adoption, friendship, and more over a breezy ninety minutes, and though its flippancy sometimes comes at the expense of convincing drama, you’ll be laughing too often to care.
Judd Apatow be damned. His movies are undeniable landmarks in the topography of 21st century comedy, but it’s telling that one of "Easy A"'s best features is its cast—Conspicuously devoid of the likes of Seth Rogen and/or Jonah Hill. Instead, Emma Stone and Amanda Bynes lead a team of up and comers, backed by terrific character actors like Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, and Malcolm McDowell, who make even the ‘boring adult’ roles pop. The ensemble seldom misses a beat, playing to their strengths and having a blast in the process.
"Easy A" gleams with their bright performances, but the real treasure is buried just below its surface: the screenplay by Bert V. Royal. As a first time screenwriter, Royal deserves special recognition for his success, especially in a genre as delicate as comedy. "Easy A" might even be the funniest film of 2010, although there’s next to no contention for that title. Royal never quite gets his big narrative cogs going, but his comedy runs like clockwork, with the benefit of a very strong premise to keep it going.
The title of his film is a less than subtle reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which Olive and her classmates are conveniently studying in school. However, the reappropriation of the crimson "A" as a badge of honor is just one of the many ways Royal refreshes not only a tired comedic subgenre, but a hundred and fifty year old novel as well. "Easy A" is one of the most amiable left-field surprises of the year, and an experience for which I have only my complete lack of common sense to thank.