Eric D. Snider

Easy A

Ten years from now, when Emma Stone is one of the most popular and respected comic actresses of her generation, "Easy A" will be a useful artifact showing when her talent first manifested itself. Sure, she was good in "Superbad" and "Zombieland," but those were secondary roles. "Easy A" is all about her, and she shines like a sparkling, hilarious diamond made not out of carbon but out of sexiness and comic timing. How could you make a diamond out of those things? I don't know! That is part of the magic.

"Easy A" is a little too rough around the edges to be an instant classic. Its satire grows unfocused, the plot threads wander off, the characters range from broadly satiric to just plain crazy. But darned if it isn't a wickedly enjoyable and smart teen comedy anyway. Olive (Emma Stone), a California high-schooler, drolly narrates what has happened to her over the last few weeks, starting with this disclaimer: "The rumors of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated." Well, now we're listening.

It seems Olive, a virgin, let her chatty best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) get the impression that she had a one-night stand with a college freshman. The high school grapevine being what it is, soon everyone "knows" that Olive is a saucy minx. And her reputation is improved. Where before no one thought about her at all, now she's kind of cool. Moreover, if she lets certain desperate guys SAY that they've fooled around with her -- without actually doing so -- then it will help THEIR reputations. Everybody wins!

Surprisingly, there turn out to be some flaws in this careful plan. When it comes to sex in high school, you really can't win. If you remain virginal, you're a prude. If you fool around too much, you're a tramp, and the definition of "too much" is ever-changing. Olive's supposed loose morality makes things difficult with Todd (Penn Badgley), the boy she likes, and especially raises the ire of Marianne (Amanda Bynes), the hyperactively prim and judgmental president of the school's Christian coalition. "We need to pray for her," Marianne tells her club. "But we also need to get her the hell out of here."

The script, by playwright Bert V. Royal, overtly references the John Hughes teen comedies of the '80s, which Olive wants her life to be like. This self-awareness helps the movie tremendously: You can get away with a lot more cliches if you acknowledge them. You know how in high-school movies whichever book the students are reading in English class always winds up relating to what's happening in the movie's plot? Olive's class is reading "The Scarlet Letter," and Olive acknowledges, in her narration, how corny and coincidental this is.

The film's director, Will Gluck, also made last year's smarter-than-you'd-think "Fired Up!" and created Fox's daft sitcom "The Loop." His facility with loony, broadly satiric humor, almost at "Arrested Development" levels, is a perfect fit for Royal's sharp and literate dialogue.

Also a perfect fit, as mentioned, is Emma Stone. She makes me think of Tina Fey here, with Olive sardonically responding to the insanity around her, apparently sensible despite her huge errors in judgment, and just a little pathetic underneath it all. Stone is self-effacing without having to suffer complete humiliation. She parries with Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her bizarrely easygoing parents, Thomas Haden Church as her English teacher, Lisa Kudrow as her guidance counselor, and Malcolm McDowell as the principal. All of these actors are funny in their own right -- I would pay $100 to watch a movie JUST about Tucci and Clarkson's characters -- and Stone handles every scene with breezy aplomb. "Easy A" is pretty good; I can't wait to see her star in something truly great.

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13, a lot of profanity, a lot of sexual dialogue and innuendo

1 hr., 34 min.

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