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The Scarlet & Black

Witty teenager embraces rumor, sticks ‘A’ on clothes

By Drew Ohringer

In case you forgot how miserable high school was, ”Easy A,” a 2010 teenage comedy-drama, will surely remind you. And even if those four interminable years were a blast for you, you are probably still well-acquainted with that unique brand of adolescent angst and anxiety portrayed in other teenage films.

“Easy A” alludes often to its movie heritage—the main character yearns for a John Cusack-like figure to appear outside her window—and it brings to mind well-known films such as “Saved,” “Juno,”  “American Pie” and the classic ’90s TV show “My So-Called Life.”

Emma Stone of “Superbad” fame plays Olive, a high school senior who repeatedly calls herself unpopular and unappealing to the opposite sex. Her Grecian tragedy of a downfall begins with a simple but revealing lie—she turns down an invitation to go on a camping trip with her obnoxious best friend’s family by telling her that she has a date with a college boy named George. Olive herself recognizes the wishful nature of her lie, and it is a little touching that her problems begin with this simple, innocent longing to go on a date. Our sympathy increases when we soon see that she spends her whole weekend in her room, slowly being brainwashed by “Pocketful of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield.

Things start to go wrong when Olive’s best friend, upon hearing that the date was uneventful, automatically assumes Olive is trying to hide that fact that she lost her virginity to “George.” In the rumor salon of the girls bathroom, Olive, senses that the new invention could bring to her some form of adolescent attention, and goes along with her friend’s interpretation. She announces that she did indeed have sex with George. Unfortunately, Marianne, an insufferable evangelical Christian played admirably by Amanda Bynes, overhears her and, like any proper high school girl, sets off to spread the news.

Olive doesn’t exactly embrace the rumor, but she doesn’t work to correct it, either. Soon, though, the whole school thinks she’s an unabashed slut. In one of the movie’s more interesting exchanges, Brandon, a gay classmate of Olive’s, asks her to pretend that she had sex with him in order to avoid the ostracizing he faces daily. Soon, boys are paying her to pretend she’s had sex with them—even though she would gladly go out with them for free if they really liked her—and her reputation becomes a a rumor-fueled mess of invention.

“Easy A” is set in one of those mythical Hollywood high schools, where kids are always walking around outside and where the teachers are either comically boring or charismatic. In this case, the charismatic teacher is played by Thomas Haden Church, in whose class Olive reads “The Scarlet Letter.” Since she frequently compares herself to Hester the allusion doesn’t feel too strained or pretentious, but the connection points to an uncomfortable problem in the movie. While Hester Prinn contended with 17th century puritans, Olive lives in a definitively more open society—the movie is set in southern California in the present-day, and her parents are portrayed as endearing ex-hippies. In this context, is it really such a big deal for a girl to lose her virginity or for a high school student to be gay?

But the problem goes deeper than believability. By making these issues such a big deal, the movie forces its characters—apart from Olive, who retains some unpredictability—into fairly expected and boring caricatures. There’s the Jesus Freak, the chubby loser, the cute jock. Partly because “Easy A” is narrated by the intelligent and witty Olive—in fact, she’s often annoyingly witty—the film promises more originality and cleverness than it ultimately delivers on.

There’s nothing wrong with an enjoyable but relatively forgettable high school movie, but “Easy A” isn’t funny enough to be one of those—in fact, it takes itself too seriously—and it doesn’t reach the witty and original heights of “Mean Girls.” But, like Olive herself, it has its charms and is usually interesting, even when behaving badly.

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