September 23, 2010

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Easy A (PG-13)
A high school student tells one little lie to a friend and becomes the school tramp in Easy A, a sweet, funny and charming teen comedy.

Olive (Emma Stone) is your average high school nerd-girl — smart and witty and socially invisible (well, average in the movie sense, where these girls are also always standout beauties). To ditch a camping weekend with the hippie-family of her friend Rhi (Alyson Michalka), she tells a well-worn lie: she has a date with A Boy From Another School. In this case, a community college freshman. She doesn’t, of course, and spends the weekend doing a charmingly dorky brand of nothing (painting her toenails, learning the words to a bad pop song). When Rhi asks her about the weekend Olive backs into “admitting” that, yes, she went on a date and had sex, but it was a one-weekend stand, never to be repeated.

Olive’s tale of being de-virgined is meant only to placate her friend, but the school’s lead Jesusfreak, Marianne (Amanda Bynes), overhears and soon Olive has a reputation. And she finds she kind of likes it. She starts dressing tartier and when she gets some static from another True-Love-Waits-type, she comes back with some sass that lands her in detention.

It’s there she runs into Brandon (Dan Byrd), a longtime friend who got in trouble for fighting. The injustice of it is that he’s the one being fought upon — every day, all the time, he tells her, because he’s gay. He sees a ray of light, however, in what Olive’s done. Her bit of fake trampiness has made her a high school boldface name. So what if they “had sex,” he suggests?

His plight moves her, so she agrees to tramp it up, go to a party with him and fake-rock his world. Afterward, he is immediately accepted by the dude/bro-types who formerly persecuted him. But Olive is marked as a loose woman and, not one to buckle under pressure, she decides to follow the example of Hester Pryne in the book they’re currently reading and she sews a red A on her trampy new wardrobe.

What makes this such a well-rounded movie is that as Olive slides down the pole of respectability, even she’s not sure that the fun she’s having is as much fun as she’s pretending it is. On the one hand, she feels she’s fighting the injustice of the prison-like high school system. But on the other hand, all the lying and the sex talk is actually starting to get to her — much as you would suspect a real girl might be bothered. The movie draws a line between itself — a John Hughes-like tale of teenage life — and the complete unreality of the Gossip Girl world. And plenty of people know the truth about her, including other social misfits who offer her gift certificates in exchange for the social currency of having done it. Even the occasional non-social misfit, like Todd (Penn Badgley), the boy she’s liked for years, guesses that her overt sluttiness isn’t on the level. And then there are the grown-ups who can guess at her game, like her favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church), who commiserates with Olive about the number of The Scarlet Letter reports he gets that mention Demi Moore. Or her parents, played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, a picture of the supportive and loving family.

The movie is not a fantasy in the CW sense, where teens act like twice-divorced 40somethings. It is the older, more endearing kind of teen-movie fantasy about having a great family and a great boyfriend and breaking free of whatever social constraints you think are holding you back. Olive is both a believable teen and the kind of smart self-assured teen we all wish we’d been. And she’s funny — the whole movie is funny, in that surprising, gleeful way that finds you actually laughing out loud, not just joining in the smirk. A-

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material. Directed by Will Gluck and written by Bert V. Royal, Easy A is an hour and 32 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.