When a teenage girl lies (for no real reason) to her friend about losing her virginity one weekend, rumor spreads through the school that she is easy. Rather than combat the rumors, Olive (Emma Stone) embraces them, changing her dress and attitude to promote her sexy, slutty reputation, lapping up the attention with an ironic eyebrow raise in the process. The stunt is inspired by her reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and Will Gluck’s Easy A sets itself up as a kind of modern day, loose revamping of the classic novel. Of course the stakes for Olive are nowhere near as high as Hester Prynne’s. No one is pregnant, and 21st century societal outcasts don’t face the threat of being tossed into the wilds of pre-colonial America. But the parallels work well enough for high school drama. Teenagers do hunt character in packs, and Olive‘s pride in her faux-sluttiness helps to thwart ostracization and expose some deep running hypocrisies among students, teachers, and parents.
The leaders of the rumor-spreading are not puritanical theocrats in Easy A, but rather rosy-cheeked, good-looking evangelical Christians, with Marianne (Amanda Bynes) as their ringleader. These righteous do-gooders form music and prayer circles during recess, sing folksy praise songs, witness to each other, and slander Olive’s character. As the rumors spread, Olive is suddenly noticed by all of the school’s boys, but she is abandoned by the girls, including her only girlfriend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). Soon, her English teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church), and his guidance counselor wife, played Lisa Kudrow, question Olive, up to then a well behaved star-student, about her negligee-inspired outfits, which often include a shiny, red satin “A.” Mrs. Griffith would probably have been happy if she never got involved. It turns out she is sleeping with Marianne’s holy roller boyfriend, and when he contracts a sexually transmitted disease from her (kids’ lives are so complicated these days, aren’t they?), everything is exposed: Mrs. Griffith’s affair with a student, Olive ‘s lies about being a slut, and Marianne and company’s nasty witch hunt. All the while, Olive manages to get the attention of her long-time crush, the man behind the school mascot, Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgley), and the two are primed for a nice relationship by the movie credits.
Easy A’s wry humor keeps it bouncy and interesting, and the tone is sardonic enough to make the movie feel like a cousin to those films from the teenage movie golden age of the 1980s (there are even a few explicit John Hughes references). Olive is a likeable misfit, and there is something unpolished about her character that makes it more appealing than the usual glossy teenage girl heroes. Still, Easy A’s black-ish comedy doesn’t go far enough. Despite its racy subject, the movie feels safer than anything John Hughes put his hand too – both sexually and emotionally. And no one in the movie is melodramatic or cool enough to arouse the same kind of wannabe idolization – the vicarious edification – that those great 1980s films managed to achieve by way of high school struggles.