I’ve said it before and I will say it again. The 80s teen movies were the shiznit. John Hughes sketched intelligent and interesting characters that people across space and time have identified with. His film made people laugh, introspect and provided comfort to many teens, troubled or otherwise. Most teen films that followed just didn’t match up to them. Then came American Pie which, though a good film, singlehandedly shifted the direction of the teen comedy genre. What followed was a legion of films that provided a barrage of increasingly unfunny poop jokes and fake characters obsessed with losing their virginity. The last decent comedy set among high school teens was Mean Girls. That was 6 years back and before that, there was 10 Things I Hate About You which was 11 years back. Now, we have Easy A.
The premise starts off with a deceptively simple lie: Olive (Emma Stone), in order to get out of a camping trip with her best friend (Alyson Michalka) and her bohemian parents, tells a lie that she has a date with an imaginary college guy. Then, to stop her friend’s badgering, she admits to having had sex with the imaginary guy. The rumour mills get to work and soon everyone is talking including the Jesus freak antagonist (Amanda Bynes). Things complicate when she agrees to pretend to have slept with a gay student (Dan Byrd) to protect him from further bullying for his sexual orientation. One thing leads to another and suddenly, Olive is in the business of doing similar “favours” for monetary benefits. Although initially hesitant, she embraces the slutty image and needless to say, the situation quickly spirals out of her control.
Easy A does not have an iota of originality in its premise. It borrows liberally from (and often takes a dig at) better and more popular teen comedies like the Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 10 Things I Hate About You, American Pie, Grease, Say Anything etc. It even has clear literary influences, the most obvious of which is The Scarlet Letter. However, it ties in these inspirations (and in some cases derivations) into a sharp, witty script with an extremely likable and intelligent protagonist and some wonderful supporting characters. Instead of denying its sources, it embraces them and works from there. Therein lies its greatest strength. It may not be realistic, but that can’t be called one of the strengths of the teen comedy genre. It is, however, consistently hilarious and filled with some brilliant references to the aforementioned films and several others. It would be wrong to reject it outright as shamelessly derivative. It is better seen as a great homage to the movies that defined the genre. Even on its own, it wisely sidesteps half baked sentimentalism opting for wit, sarcasm and outrageous humour instead and provides us some thoroughly entertaining moments.While not knowing the sources that inspire it does not take away from its sheer entertainment value, knowing them helps appreciate its virtues even more.
Another thing I realised is that all great teen movies have a memorable soundtrack. Easy A does a respectable job in that department as well. Apart from the songs it borrows from the aforementioned movies, it has a great collection of contemporary and classic tunes in its armoury that fit the tone of the film perfectly well.
The casting for this film is unbelievably good. The actors may not look like teenagers, but they do know how to act their parts. Emma Stone gives a pitch perfect performance as Olive, the girl who goes from anonymity to notoriety within 2 weeks. I have loved her in films like Zombieland and Superbad and she is only getting better. She is to this film what both, Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck were to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Without her, the film would crumble into mediocrity. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are side splittingly funny as the progressive, quirky and caring parents of Olive. They may not be the most realistic characters, but they sure are immensely likable. Lisa Kudrow is very good as the stereotypical guidance counsellor with a few twists of her own. Amanda Bynes plays the vamp for a change and does it well. Malcolm McDowell and Thomas Haden Church are wasted. The rest of the cast is adequate.
Overall, Easy A reminds us how good a teen comedy can be. While not ground breaking, it is a nostalgic throwback to the great films that defined the genre and features an immensely likable protagonist and borderline fantastic performances. It has great repeat value and that is more than enough to give this film a recommendation. Hopefully, it will not be another 6 years before another good entry in the genre.