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Emma Stone in a scene from Easy A.

Adam Taylor

3 out of 4 stars


Easy A

  • Directed by Will Gluck
  • Written by Bert V. Royal
  • Starring Emma Stone
  • Classification: 14A

Easy A takes Nathaniel Hawthorne to high school. Yes, the "A" is the scarlet letter and, in these modern times, "Easy" is how our teenage Hester Prynne wears it. She eagerly embraces the label, looking and dressing and acting the part, working awfully hard to transform herself into a loose woman, and yesterday's moral tragedy into today's adolescent comedy. And the final mark? Well, give this proud A a solid B. It's definitely a Diablo Codyesque cut above the norm - the wit can sometimes feel contrived but at least there's wit to be found.

Here, amid the orange groves of a small California town, Hester goes by the name of Olive (Emma Stone), an innocuous femme too bland to be noticed - until, one fine morning in the girls' washroom, she tells a little black lie. Boasting about a non-existent date with a non-existent man, Olive crows "We did it!" loudly enough to earn her an instant rep as the class slut and an immediate rebuke from the class Christian: "I hope for your sake that God has a sense of humour."

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Don't know if He has, but writer Bert Royal does, and the premise neatly kicks in. Convinced that any reputation is better than none at all, Olive plants herself at the lively centre of the rumour mill, neither confirming nor denying, but happy to revel in her infamy. In fact, blessed with the mandatory attributes of a female teen in a Codyesque comedy - a sharp mind and a sharper tongue - she gives as good as she gets, firing back at her puritanical taunters and, of course, refashioning her wardrobe to fit her sultry new image. Down plunge the necklines, up go the spike heels.

By happy coincidence, Hawthorne's novel is under study in English class, where Olive is ready to offer illiterate lit students everywhere this fine advice: "Watch the movie. But make sure it's the original and not the Demi Moore version." Smart indeed - the girl knows of what she speaks. Meanwhile, back on the home front, her ultraliberal parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) are observing their daughter's metamorphosis through their usual veil of ultracool irony. Here, too, Olive more than holds her own, swapping sophisticated bons mots until it's impossible to tell the adults from the kid.

But that's just another fashion statement, announcing that the picture wants to be the high-style brand of high-school flick, showcasing its haute-couture banter. Sure, it's quick, it's fun, but it also suffers from the ingrained self-consciousness that goes with this verbal territory - you know, the sort of precocious dialogue where teenagers just sound way too hip for their homeroom.

Happily, what isn't contrived is Stone's performance. She's onscreen almost continuously, the camera positively adores her, and who are we to argue with the lens - any initial resistance is soon overcome, leaving us in thrall. Sharp but never bitter, smooth but not too sweet, her Olive is a martini with a kick.

As for the plot that attends the dialogue, it saunters along like a pleasant afterthought. At first, being a compassionate soul, Olive puts her bad rep to good use, trading on it to enhance the wattage of the school's lesser lights - the sensitive gay guy, the lonely fat guy. From there, a bunch of rather wonky complications ensue, prompting our beleaguered heroine, as her life goes awry, to cry out in frustration: "John Hughes didn't direct my life."

No, but Will Gluck did, and don't worry: He's not about to leave the poor girl stranded without tossing her the customary lifelines of true love and a sunset ending. Then again, such conventions are always digestible. Actually, this whole thing goes down pretty well - in short, and in our vernacular, Easy A is Easy, Eh.

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