“EASY A” EARNS HIGH HONORS

Life definitely imitates art in “Easy A,” an absolutely delightful teen comedy starring the irresistibly charming Emma Stone, whose career should take off like a rocket after her marvelous performance in this film.

Olive Penderghast (Stone) is a student at Ojai High School in California, and her best friend is Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), a young woman who thrives on gossip and who insists on knowing the most intimate details of Olive’s life. When Rhiannon learns that Olive’s parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanely Tucci) are going to be out of town for the weekend, she assumes that Olive will take advantage of this to lose her virginity to a mythical college guy with whom she is supposed to have a date. In actuality Olive spends the weekend alone singing to her dog.

When Olive returns to school on Monday morning, Rhiannon asks her for a vivid description of her monumental step. Instead of disappointing her friend, Olive finally says that she and her date “did it,” and this news sends Rhiannon into paroxysms of glee. Of course the story of Olive’s deflowering spreads through the student body like the proverbial wild fire, and when the word reaches Marianne (Amanda Bynes), the school’s resident religious nut, she makes certain that Olive becomes firmly established as Ojai High School’s consummate slut.

Now Olive’s new fame takes an interesting turn when Brandon (Dan Byrd), a gay lad who is constantly subjected to ridicule by the school’s stud contingent, approaches her and pleads with her to fake having sex with him at an upcoming party so that he will earn the respect of the masculine morons who have been making his life miserable. At first Olive is opposed to the idea, but Brandon comes across as so miserably pathetic that she ultimately agrees.

“In such emergencies, Hester’s nature showed itself warm and rich; a wellspring of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head of that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world’s heavy hand had so ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked forward to this result.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne – “The Scarlet Letter”

At the party Olive and Brandon pretend to get drunk, and then Brandon brazenly leads her into the hostess’s bedroom, where they proceed to feign raucous sex as the other partygoers eavesdrop on the other side of the door. Brandon emerges from the room a hero, and Olive now has set herself up to be approached by other nerds who want to change their images the way that Brandon did.

As her reputation sinks lower and lower, Olive, who has been studying Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” in her English class, decides to flaunt her newfound fame by emulating Hester Prynne and wearing an on her on her clothing over her breast.

“The scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril.” Nathaniel Hawthorne – “The Scarlet Letter”

Although Olive seems to revel in the guise she has created for herself, we know that she really doesn’t want people to think that she is a common harlot, and as the film progresses, we eventually learn how all of Olive’s problems are resolved. But while she is wearing the A on her clothing, she has a number of very interesting experiences.

“She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness.  Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods.  The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread.  Shame, Despair, Solitude!  These had been her teachers – stern and wild ones – and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”  Nathaniel Hawthorne – “The Scarlet Letter”

“Easy A” is a well acted and classy teen comedy that, in addition to being quite funny in places, also conveys an important message to today’s young people. In the film’s production notes, screenwriter Bert Royal explained how “The Scarlet Letter” fit in with the screenplay.

“I never intended it to be a strict adaptation of the book but to use thematic elements as an inspiration. The major theme of the piece is about puritanical values versus being yourself. Olive is an extremely liberal person and feels like people should be true to themselves, but unfortunately she’s growing up in a society that condemns people for stepping out of the norm. Her goal is to loosen up the town a little bit, which she does, but not in the way she intended.”

Despite her unconventional behavior, Olive is both a likable and admirable character, and that is simply because Stone imbues her with such class and charm that we can’t help adoring her. Stone, who appears in practically every frame of the movie, definitely had the responsibility of carrying the film, and she succeeded beautifully. Whether she is talking with her parents, who are wonderfully portrayed by Clarkson and Tucci, simply speaking into the camera for a Web cast she is making, or engaging in repartee with her peers, Stone is consistently convincing in the her role. She has superb poise in front of the camera, and what Olive does during a pep rally near the end of the film underscores just how talented Stone is. Keep your eye on this young woman because she should have a stellar career ahead of her.

In additional key roles, Bynes is sufficiently obnoxious as the irrepressible Jesus freak, and Michalka excels in her part as Olive’s best friend. Also Lisa Kudrow is on hand to add her unique brand of comedy to the film in the part of the school’s guidance counselor. Can you imagine entrusting your teenager to her for advice?

Another thing this film has to recommend it is that, unlike many films in this genre, it doesn’t rely on gross sight gags in an attempt to generate humor. The movie is rated PG-13, and although there certainly are some suggestive scenes, the film contains no graphic sex or nudity. Indeed this is a movie that teens can view with their parents without any embarrassment for the young or old.

I found “Easy A” (Give it an eight.) a refreshing change of pace, and I particularly enjoyed the numerous literary allusions throughout the movie. And the film is aptly titled because from beginning to end this definitely is a grade-A movie.

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