A high-spirited, whip-smart high school sex comedy told from a female perspective, "Easy A" is "The Scarlet Letter" on laughing gas. It updates the pilgrim tale of scandal to the age of Twitter, where raunchy rumors travel at almost telepathic speed. The film races ahead with the pace and feel of rushed 21st-century life. The repartee rockets along, too, thanks to the extravagantly talented Emma Stone, whose cool, crisp delivery puts a topspin on the script's barbed banter.
In place of saintly Hester Prynne, we have sassy Olive Penderghast (Stone), a virginal wiseacre who's invisible to her California school's clique leaders. When a bullied gay friend (Dan Byrd) implores her to pretend that her mad sex skills turned him hetero, Olive is a nonentity no more. Suddenly, thrillingly notorious, she pushes the fib further. After all, she's grown up in a culture where scandal is a shortcut to celebrity. Her ruse snowballs out of control, however, and she's branded the biggest tramp at Ojai High. She can't understand why her life has turned out like a Nathaniel Hawthorne morality tale and not like a John Hughes movie.
In the live webcast to her classmates that serves as the story's framing device, Olive sets the record straight. As she explains, "There are two sides to every story and this is my side. The right one." Stone talks straight into the camera, and we know her character immediately. She's a little smarter than everyone else, vulnerable, she wears a protective shield of sarcasm, but she's too decent for cynicism.
With Olive caught between what she wants to do and what she should do, the film contains a moment or two of piercing sadness, but it is mostly tremendously funny. The script is conscious of the clichés and conventions of Sweet Valley/Traveling Pants movies and has great fun toppling them. In films like this a montage of the heroine singing and dancing to pop music is obligatory. Stone's flailing. wailing rendition of "Pocketful of Sunshine" honors the tradition while kicking it in the caboose.
Director Will Gluck has pulled together a powerhouse supporting cast including Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow, funny and poignant as teachers stuck in a dead marriage. Amanda Bynes is a delicious nuisance as a judgmental über-Christian teen. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play Olive's teasing, urbane parents, lobbing witticisms like top players in a tennis match.
Yet the film belongs to the lead actress, who is in almost every scene. Gluck's camera spends a great deal of time regarding Stone's face. He's not just gawking at her offbeat good looks, he's showcasing her talent. When Olive's efforts to leverage her trashy new reputation for social and financial gain backfire, Stone is by turns outraged, joyous, regretful, bewildered and romantic, and she nails every nuance. She's very funny but also human, believable, sympathetic and convincing. "Easy A" delivers on the promise she showed on the sidelines of "Superbad" and "Zombieland." It marks the flowering of a luminous new comic star.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186