Emma Stone is one of the young (speaking as an old fart) generation’s hot, vibrant, earthy, and entirely natural actresses who can easily enhance a film or two (“Zombieland,” “Superbad”) and make you wonder when she’ll get her own breakout vehicle. She seems cut from the same mold that bathed then promising Amber Tamblyn in award-winning accolades for her performance as Joan Girardi, the misunderstood girl-speaks-to-God student in “Joan of Arcadia” a half decade ago. In Stone’s case, her drive to fame and fortune has just arrived at your local multiplex in “Easy A,” Will Gluck’s comic look at high school sexual politics gone calamitously awry.
Teenage gossip runs amuck in Ojai, California as Olive Penderghast (Stone) narrates via the web this tale of woe-unto-me faux-motional suffering. The audience—you—is thankfully anchored to your theatre seats, watching the screen/monitor as she confesses that “rumors of my promiscuity are greatly exaggerated.” Those rumors can be the kind of invented news that kids make up these days, some twisted into jack a*s moments, others that brand deeper scars. In this instance the involvement of an imaginary boyfriend and a weekend sexcapade (in reality a dull home alone blip), commences when Olive, anxious to escape another weird dinner at the home of her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), creates the diverting snowball of a white lie. Prying ears, belonging to prim, prudish, uptight Anita Bryant clone Marianne (Amanda Bynes, reaching, like Ms. Michalka, far from her Disney “fun girl” days) allow for Olive’s perceived licentious behavior to flourish throughout the school. An avalanche of problems ensue. Rather than setting the record straight, Olive embraces the situation that has brought her instant notoriety, trading on the lie for cash (or gift certificates with a variety of well known chain stores) so that a circle of acquaintances can benefit—including a pretend roll-in-the-hay with gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd).
“Easy A” is deftly written by Bert Royal, who uses Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” as a stepping stone to loosening the chains of conformity that involve Olive, her family, her friends, and ultimately everyone on and off the high school campus. The cast embraces the show, especially Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s understanding, super-mellow parents, Rosemary and Dill (What a herbal combination!), the kind every kid in Tea Party America could use. Their performances alone are worth the price of admission. Stir in a little mini-story involving English teacher Mr. Griffith (Thomas Hayden Church) and his bad-at-guidance counselor wife Lisa Kudrow. And don’t forget a little crush factor in the shape of Penn Badgley as Todd, the school mascot who has a nice repartee with Olive, whether painted blue, adorned in a woodchuck costume, or even wearing a lobster hat. SNL’s Fred Armisen makes a brief appearance as Marianne’s father, a local pastor. And Cam Gigandet from “Twilight” plays Marianne’s chaste yet STD-infected bf Micah, a 22-year-old, 4-time h.s. senior. (“If God wanted him to graduate he would have given him the right answers.”)
If there is any successor to the late John Hughes, Will Gluck is that substitute teacher. He captures today’s high school soul with the same resourcefulness as Hughes did in “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.” It’s not quite as endearing, but it’s a helluva good start.