The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Easy A
Emma Stone is a modern-day Hester Prynne in Easy A.

Easy A is a Clueless for the 21st century. Both are teen comedies that modernize classic works of literature. Both offer star-making turns from young actresses. Most importantly, both are smart, funny, and relevant to their target audience (although one does not need to be in that demographic to enjoy it). Plus, it's packed with a bunch of subtle and not-so-subtle references to John Hughes movies, which gives it an extra level of fun within the fun.

Emma Stone stars as Olive Penderghast, a “good girl” high schooler who laments her invisibility; she feels that she's simply not interesting enough to earn the notice of her edgier peers. In order to beef herself up to best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), Olive tells a little white lie: that she went on a date with a college guy and lost her virginity. The lie is overheard by Marianne (Amanda Bynes), the self-righteous leader of the school's Christian fellowship group, who proceeds to spread it through the halls. Before long, Olive is branded the school tramp. Some teen girls might run home and cry into their pillows for days. Not Olive. She's too rebellious. Inspired by her class assignment of reading “The Scarlet Letter,” she decides to embrace the rumors by wearing sleazy lingerie emblazoned with a large red “A” on the front. She also helps some of the school losers by accepting payment for insinuating that they've scored with her.

One person who is concerned about this behavior is Olive's favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church). He tries to intervene, but it's too late. Olive has become too provocative, leading her classmates to text and make lascivious Facebook posts about her. This sets off a chain of unpredictable events that she has to struggle to bring under control.

Easy A is not your typical dumb teen comedy, nor is it a fantasy. In retooling “The Scarlet Letter,” it manages to say something potentially of value to many of those who will line up to see it. There's a terrific scene in which Mr. Griffith laments the way modern teens feel the need to share their every action via computers or communication devices. The movie takes a similar point of view, suggesting that when we reveal everything about ourselves, it's all too simple for things to be exaggerated into hurtful rumor and innuendo. I love how up-to-date this theme is. The best teen movies are about, well, being teenagers. Easy A is about that too, but more specifically, it's about being a teenager in today's wired culture, where technology has made the concept of “oversharing” obsolete.

The film has a wonderful lead character in Olive Penderghast. This is no dumb teen girl. She's smart, and those around her know she's smart. Her sequence of lies is designed to be a way of telling everyone else to get bent; she's satirically embracing the inaccurate image others have formed of her. If things eventually get beyond her control, that doesn't mean that she isn't sticking it to them. (The movie is framed by Olive's live webcast, in which she tells the story after-the-fact. It's no spoiler to say that she ultimately makes her point in spite of the obstacles.) Olive is also delightfully sarcastic, a trait she inherits from her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson). Some of the funniest moments are of the family riffing off one another. When Olive warns her folks not to believe a rumor that she's contracted an STD, they aren't alarmed at all. In fact, they joke about it, knowing that their daughter would never be so careless as to have that happen. It's nice to see a teen movie in which the parents are engaged and involved, rather than clueless and apathetic.

Emma Stone knocks this one out of the park. After showing real charm in pictures like The House Bunny, Zombieland, and Superbad, she finally has a lead role that allows her to shine. The actress is required to be simultaneously intelligent, sardonic, and vulnerable. She pulls it off. Think about it: a teen girl emulating Hester Prynne in real life could easily come off as melodramatic or even histrionic. Stone shows us how this is Olive's deliberate choice – one she makes to illustrate a point her peers need to hear. We root for her because there's something amazingly ballsy about her desire to call everyone else out on their laziness in truly getting to know each other.

I had some big laughs in Easy A, which has been directed with style and energy by Will Glick, whose last feature was the putrid Fired Up. This time, he's got better material in the form of Bert V. Royal's screenplay. In addition to laughing, I also greatly admired what the film is saying. We all know that gossip is one of the single most horrific things a high schooler can face. It tears people apart. Easy A a first-rate teen comedy, yet it's also a call to arms. When you make the private public, the film says, you're opening a can of worms that will be hard to close back up. If you're a teen now or were a teen once, there's bound to be something here you can relate to. This movie is a winner.

( 1/2 out of four)

Easy A is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.