John Hughes made some of the most beloved teen movies in the 80s – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and if it wasn’t for him, other teen movies would never have got off the ground. Easy A plays out like a homage to Hughes (both overtly and subtlety) and not only is it one of the best movies of the year, but one of the best teen movies ever made – a modern jewel worthy of its roots.
The story follows Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone), a normal high school student. While telling her best friend in the toilets a lie that she lost her virginity at the weekend, she’s overheard by the school goody two-shoes Marianne (Amanda Bynes). The rumour spreads and mutates and soon Olive finds she has a reputation as an insatiable nymphomaniac. This is compounded by a deal she makes with her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd), who wants to say he slept with her to escape merciless homophobic bullying.
Rather than deny the rumour, Olive decides to ride the wave, pretending to have sex with a queue of geeks and nerds to enhance their reputations while simultaneously ruining her own. But Olive starts to realise that she’s created a monster and there are downsides to having a bad reputation…
At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Easy A as some throwaway teen fluff but it quickly outstrips all expectations with some razor-sharp dialogue and cutting social commentary that it never attempts to shove down your throat. It skilfully shines a light on the inherent ridiculousness of labels, the power of gossip as well as the disparity in how promiscuity is treated in girls and boys, all the while keeping the laughs plentiful and the tone light.
It features an excellent supporting cast who are developed into actual believable characters in their own right rather than simply being relegated to cheering from the sidelines. Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow are solid as a pair of teachers having marital problems but it’s the outstanding turns by Olive’s parents which get the best laughs: Patricia Clarkson is sublime as her progressive mother but it’s Stanley Tucci’s thundering return to form as Olive’s father after his ghastly performance in the reprehensible The Lovely Bones that steals the show.
But the irrepressible star of Easy A is Emma Stone, who’s been lurking on the cinematic periphery for some time (Superbad, Zombieland) but now deservedly steps in to the spotlight. The script never pulls its punches but it’s Stone’s superb comic timing which never misses its mark and her undeniable screen presence which elevates this film from good to great. She’s smart, witty and irresistibly likable and impressively for a teen movie she undergoes the change from plain Jane to vivacious vixen without it ever seeming forced.
Admittedly, some of the John Hughes references are a little bit clunky, as is the heavy-handed referencing of The Scarlet Letter (on which the plot is loosely based) and it’s questionable how much shock value the loss of virginity has in a modern high school, but these are completely forgivable in a film which features genuine laugh aloud humour, a script crackling with energy and one of the best comic performances in a teen movie in recent memory.
Easy A is pure gold, easily the best teen movie in the last five years and arguably the best teen movie since its closest contemporaries 10 Things I Hate About You and Clueless (which also use literary sources as inspiration for modern reworking). Simply put, a must see.