As Clueless is to Emma, Easy A is to The Scarlett Letter. Amy Heckerling's brilliant grafting of the Jane Austen novel on to the world of vapid teenagers worked on every level. Despite the literary inspiration of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Easy A is not nearly as accomplished and merely serves to prove that a clever concept and remarkably talented cast can't overcome mediocre screenwriting and pedestrian direction. To be blunt, Will Gluck is no Amy Heckerling, and he's certainly not Alexander Payne either despite the film's blatant desire to be a satire on the level of Payne's spectacular Election. Of course, many movies would fall short of comparison to Clueless or Election, so let's leave those touchstones behind and judge Easy A purely on what it is and not its obvious inspirations. And that is a comedy with a mega-talented lead star and wonderful supporting actors all left adrift by a script that vacillates between satire and social commentary but never forgets to remind you that its characters are oh-so-clever. Easy A is a film ostensibly about the falsity of image that seems so concerned with its own that it merely bores more often than it entertains. It's one of those ensemble pieces that reminds you how and why you like the stars in it from your experience with them in other films but never makes you like them in this one.
The great Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) stars as Olive, who narrates almost all of Easy A as a confessional webcast about a tumultuous time in her high school career. It all starts with a lie to her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka, so much better in the underrated Bandslam) about a weekend of losing her virginity to an imaginary college boy. The school prude (Amanda Bynes) overhears the lie and it spreads, turning Olive into the school slut. In the film's most interesting turn (but underdeveloped, as every subplot of the film turns out to be), a closeted gay student (the great Dan Byrd of Cougar Town) convinces Olive to help the spread the rumor that they slept together so he will stop being bullied in the halls. Pretty soon, every dork and misfit is bribing Olive with Home Depot gift cards to tell a story about a one-night stand. Even Olive's favorite teacher (Thomas Haden Church) and guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) get caught up in the storytelling. All the while, Olive's ridiculously supportive parents (Patricia Clarkson & Stanley Tucci) make clear that they love Olive no matter what, even as her lies threaten to do some real damage. Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl) co-stars as the guy we all know Olive will eventually end up with and Malcolm McDowell has one of the most oddly-cast supporting roles of the year as the school principal.
The big problem is simple: Not one character in Easy A speaks like an actual high school student, teacher, or parent. Olive is a Hollywood creation, the girl who always has a literary reference or clever quip at the ready no matter the situation, and most of the people around her feel just as fake. Despite her best efforts to ground her in reality, Stone simply gets buried by a script that seems almost abusive in its desire to show you just how smart its heroine really is and how much she knows it. By the time she started making references to Sylvia Plath, I desperately wanted something that felt genuine out of Olive instead of another clearly-scripted line, but I knew it would simply not happen. And it's a true shame that Gluck, who made the even more vapid Fired Up!, and freshman writer Bert V. Royal couldn't take the time to craft a realistic moment because they have a ridiculously talented young cast in Stone, Michalka, Byrd, and Bynes and I don't need to tell you how many ensemble directors would kill for Tucci, Clarkson, Kudrow, and Church to play their adults. The incredible ensemble was undoubtedly drawn in by a pitch that drew comparisons to Clueless and Election. It's just too bad that the movie they ended up making will merely make you want to watch those great comedies instead of standing beside them.
Rating: TWO BONES,
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: September 17th, 2010
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Dan Byrd, Aly Michalka, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Patricia Clarkson, and Stanley Tucci
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Bert V. Royal