*Easy A (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
High school. A redhead who feels invisible. Trash talk, misunderstandings, geeks boasting that they scored, and, of course, a seemingly unattainable cool guy. No, it's not Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink, but Easy A, a sex comedy that's purportedly based on The Scarlet Letter but that owes a bigger debt to a certain '80s teen-angst king. He's even referenced by Olive, our lovely nerd protagonist: "Just once I want my life to be like an '80s movie," she says in a video confessional. "But nooo — John Hughes didn't direct my life."
Is she sure about that? With Superbad's Emma Stone playing the funny, whip-smart but lonely heroine, you can't help but think of the travails of Molly Ringwald. The parallels certainly could help sink what looks like your average throwaway teen movie, particularly since it's penned by a green screenwriter, Bert V. Royal, and directed by Will Gluck, helmer of last year's awful Fired Up!.
But Easy A is not terrible. Now, it's not indelible, either; it's simply an agreeable and relatively witty surprise. Much of the credit goes to Stone, a unique, husky-voiced beauty who can easily rattle off beyond-her-years chatter without making it sound script-clever. Her Olive is a self-described "anonymous" good girl at her school when the film begins, besties with a bit of a bitch (Aly Michalka), but otherwise the straight-A type with progressive parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and, of course, her virginity.
When she lies about a date to get out of going camping with her friend, though, the fib — as fibs must — gets more involved. Yes, they had fun. Yes, they kissed. And yes, they went all the way. Whoops, did Olive say that out loud?
Olive really spent the weekend hanging out in her room, but the story of losing her V-card travels fast and furious, particularly of interest to a holier-than-thou Christian classmate (Amanda Bynes) and every boy who shares the same hallways. When Olive can't rein in the rumor, she decides instead to own it. Her modest wardrobe is ditched for the "whore couture" of corsets and short shorts. And, like the similarly bedeviled character in the novel her lit class is studying, Olive adorns her tops with a Hester Prynne-pretty "A."
Then Olive starts helping guys out. First it's a gay classmate (Dan Byrd) who wants to pass as straight; together they jump on a bed and grunt behind closed doors at a party. Then it's other outcasts who wouldn't mind a bad reputation, giving Olive money or gift cards in exchange for the right to say they fooled around with her. Obviously, things get out of control, keeping her from a romance with Todd (Penn Badgley).
At times, Easy A feels more grown-up than its main characters, from all the '80s references to the fact that its sharpest moments come when Olive is interacting with adults. Thomas Hayden Church, as Olive's favorite teacher, gets off a few zingers, and Tucci and Clarkson's Mr. and Mrs. are not only more well-rounded than most comedy prop parents, they're as funny as Olive.
With its best parts relegated to the sidelines, the film's central plot at times feels a bit neglected, and overall leaves little impression except that Stone is a star. But we already knew that.