About a quarter way into Easy A it occurred to me that it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen a movie like this that was successfully created. I don’t think of myself as a child of the 90s, but I grew up in a house with two sisters who were; and, this sort of hopefully (or should that be hopelessly) zeitgeist teen comedy that wears its heart shamelessly on its sleeves while still trying to adhere to the typical sensibilities of its usual sex-deprived audience is such a thing of the past that I was almost expecting an angry cheerleader to turn up with her ponytail and slam her locker door as she disparagingly tells us that this entire movie is “super nineties”.
True to the 90s form Easy A is thin on plot. Olive Penderghast is any random teenage girl complete with that nagging feeling of invisibility. Will Gluck (writer and director) doesn’t even try to make her into the ugly duckling (a la Rachel Leigh Cook), although this is not quite the story of invisible girl meets popular boy – then comes love. But, you immediately get that feeling of disbelief that Emma Stone in all her gorgeous affability is struggling to get noticed at her school. Nonetheless, as the plot goes, an unfortunate and rash embellishment (okay, fine – a stupid lie) falls on the wrong ears and Olive moves from unknown to renowned (and did I mention, slutty) in a matter of seconds – the gossip chain at Ojai School is phenomenal. What ensues is a generally standard tale of finding oneself and love (the high school version) completed with a plethora of zany supporting characters and a potential obscure throwback to a classic piece of literature (enter Nathaniel Hawthorne and his “Scarlet Letter”).
The thing is, what made the 90s so brilliant (says me) was its unrelenting awareness of how to play the almost tediously standard story against a backdrop of freaky random teenage occurrences and making it seem if not inspired at least fresh (marginally). You know the type: unpopular girl gains popular for better, then for worse, and then for better again, sort of. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Emma Stone in anything before and true she’s no Julia Stiles/Rachel Leigh Cook/[insert name] but she is altogether charming enough to make a ridiculous running gag involving Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocket Full of Sunshine” decidedly hilarious even when the “joke” has no punch line of any sort. Of course anyone who comes from Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci has to have a modicum of awesomeness; and of course, true to their usual form Patty and Stanley are adept at stealing scenes like no one’s business. I’m not sure it’s prudent for me to call it a fault of the film that Easy A is at its height when either of the two take the screen. It’s to Gluck’s credit (and, I’ll admit, my occasional consternation) that he doesn’t overload us with their brilliance. They’re only peripheral addition to the story, and Gluck knows that, just like Lisa Kudrow’s improbable, freaky and altogether enjoyable guidance counselee isn’t the story’s root either – even if she’s more than just satisfying milking it for all it’s worth.
It’s a slight pet peeve of mine when someone will review a movie that’s less than perfect, and say some variation of “it succeeds because it knows it’s not very good” – ambiguous much? I won’t deny that sometimes even I confuse profundity with goodness. Does Easy A have an overreaching message to give us? I think it’s a bit impractical to place too much credence on Olive and possibly Gluck’s obvious infatuation with John Hughes (though it’s probably a bit difficult not to). I will say for Gluck that he has a talent for handling the mass of characters without getting confused or overwrought. It covers much ground in 90 minutes but seems to fly by, and perhaps somewhere in that we should probably just appreciate diversity in Easy A as much as we should in the real world (or something like that). Maybe, in the end, the payoff seems a bit too slight to really have anything more than ephemeral profundity (and, maybe, not even that) – but I’ll forgive it because, well, I’m easy.