It’s hard to know what age group exactly is meant to be the target audience for Easy A. On one hand, it’s a film set in high school and revolves around first-time sex and a girl’s reputation, which every teenager should be able to relate to. On the other hand, the main character has a vocabulary that would threaten most adults and longs to live the romances found in 80’s romcoms, which are films that only much older audiences will remember and appreciate. In the end, it doesn’t quite matter in which hand any one particular audience member falls since Easy A has enough content to keep both demographics happy – it just isn’t quite a satisfying representation of reality.
Olive (Emma Stone) is an above average-looking, over-achieving high school teenager who happens to be best friends with the hottest girl in school: the oversexed and busty Rhiannon (Aly Michalka). In order to get out of a weekend camping trip with Rhiannon, Olive fabricates a few romantic days with an imaginary, older boy. When Rhiannon assumes that Olive lost her virginity to him, Olive doesn’t exactly correct her. Regrettably, the class prude, Marianne (Amanda Bynes), and her uber-Christian cohorts catch wind of Olive’s new status and rumors begin to swirl. Olive enjoys the new attention and helps it grow, loosely modeling her behavior after Hester Prynne from The Scarlett Letter, going so far as to wear a red ‘A’ on her clothes. What Olive discovers, however, is that having a bad reputation is rarely good and is usually more trouble than it’s worth.
Easy A is composed of several elements that surprisingly work well together. Olive is a sympathetic protagonist that average young people can appreciate. She’s pretty enough to be admired, but not unattainably so. She’s also mature, self-aware and intelligent enough to garner positive attention from adult audiences. That characters that fill Olive’s life are also kooky enough to be interesting, without breaking the film with their outlandishness, like Olive’s eccentric parents. Finally, who knew that Christians could make such satisfying and annoying villains?
The film is at its best when Olive behaves like a teenager. The funniest part in Easy A is when Olive and a friend simulate a sex act behind closed doors to help perpetuate Olive’s bad reputation while creating a whole new one for her friend. Unfortunately for both of them, they have no idea what real sex is like, so grunts and moans are off pitch while dirty talk tiptoes into the weird. It is in the ignorance of youth where Easy A’s comedy gold resides and where it remains mostly untapped, ready to be mined. Instead, Olive goes about her dilemma in a very calm and collected manner with seemingly all of the answers – which is fine, but not very funny nor believable for a teenager. Furthermore, the Christians are stereotyped into straw men and the unfair representation more or less sucks out any chance of comedy except the most mean spirited.
The acting and direction get the job done throughout. All of the shots seem functional, including the many quick zips around campus from student to student to illustrate how fast news spreads. By and large, the shots simply serve to frame the actors and let the scenes speak for themselves. The only time a director’s touch feels present is during the opening and closing credit sequences. As far as the actors go, Emma Roberts is more than charismatic enough to carry the film. She’s resilient and quirky and sometimes silly and carefree. However, she rarely plays Olive as a teenager, but that minor flaw may be a limitation of the script. Her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) amazingly pull off their characters through sheer commitment, talent and wit that’s drier than a martini. They manage to be some of the funnier and more entertaining characters in the film. As the main villain in Easy A, Amanda Bynes is adequate. Unfortunately, she’s playing a caricature of a person, which limits her acting to over-the-top non-believability, but it works after a while.
While audiences will laugh and cheer during Easy A, those moments will rarely be a consensus. The film seems to be written by an adult for adults who have fantastical memories of high school. Actual high school students in the audience will probably wonder why losing your virginity is considered scandalous and will marvel at the events on screen that never ever happen at their high school, but will laugh anyway, pretending to understand jokes about Sylvia Plath and faking appreciation for movies like Sixteen Candles. Nevertheless, most audiences will still genuinely have a good time most of the time.