'Easy A' Avoids High School Movie Pitfalls

Photo: Amanda Bynes and Emma Stone in 'Easy A.'
Adam Taylor/Sony Pictures Entertainment/Courtesy
Amanda Bynes and Emma Stone in 'Easy A.'

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All the skepticism you've slowly been trained to form re: the typical high school movie might have met a worthy adversary: With Will Gluck's "Easy A," it seems that some filmmakers are once again believers in the idea that a target audience for the average High School Film can actually handle material that's well-formulated and smart.

Starting from a slightly skimpy premise centered around an attractive nobody, "Easy A" shapes Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) into a sarcastic, somewhat bitchy and crude sort of heroine. Whatever happened to the classic high school experience - good looks don't lead to popularity? And since when did hot leading chicks in teenage films have personalities?

With only a notably big-breasted best friend (Aly Michalka), Olive's a veritable loner - but for a film rooted around a semi-loser character, for once you don't identify with her through pity, but rather admiration. She's cool, she's smart, and she gets good grades.

Courtesy of bathroom eavesdropping, Olive's innocent lie (she lost her virginity to some dude, no, she doesn't want to talk about it) implodes, spreading across campus. The Anti-Olive-I-Must-Smear-Slutty-Olive campaign is spearheaded by the overtly Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes), who's shame-to-save tactics are almost as aggravating as Bynes' forced acting and fake tan.

The rumors, and a favor to a friend - she'll say she had sex with him, people won't think he's gay - remind you of high school at its most terrible, when people sucked and being anonymous (her) or gay (him) were reasons enough to lie and spread rumors about yourself. But lying can't be all that bad when it gets you what you want, and Olive sees a rise in her popularity (infamy); losers-in-the-know are aware it's all a hoax, however, and pay her to acquiesce to their lofty (sex) claims. Like a modern-day Hester Prynne - a model for the film - Olive bears the heavy burden of whoring out her reputation by counter-intuitively wearing lingerie as clothing.

At some point, this plan stops working.

And, as always, technology comes to the rescue, in the form of a live webcast directed to the entire school. Teenagers are so good at that digital stuff.

The film excels through screenwriter Bert V. Royal's witty dialogue and level-headed temperance. Line for line, "Easy A" is silly without being stupid, and smart without basing its humor in the physicality on which such films usually rely (see: prat falls and heavy cleavage). At only an hour and a half, the filmmakers keep it short and sweet and not overbearing, eschewing the see-more-get-more mentality so many films now take to heart.

Royal's characters are smart and captivating, and Emma Stone's take on Olive makes for an unusual protagonist whose sarcasm sparkles without alienating. Having played strong supporting roles in "Zombieland" and "Superbad," she's forming herself into a different kind of leading character, one of a new brand of astute, sharp heroines.

Like any teenage outcast, Olive has a thing for the high school mascot, Woodchuck Todd, played by a goofy Penn Badgley. If you watch "Gossip Girl" and were questioning his acting capability, you might be (spoiler!) surprised: Badgley can actually act, and you can actually like him. But though it's being marketed as a romantic comedy, this film is more of a coming-of-age story. It's not really about Woodchuck Todd, or whether Olive ends up with him, or how hard she has to try to get him. It's about her.

Tags: EASY A

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