Thursday, September 16, 2010

Class act

Emma Stone becomes a star in smart teen-sex comedy

Posted on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 4:00 AM

*****
Easy A
Studio: Sony Pictures Releasing
Rated: PG-13
Cast: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church
Director: Will Gluck
WorkNameSort: Easy A
Our Rating: 5.00

The makers of Easy A know that you've grown up with the same John Hughes movies they have. They know that rumors are more easily spread with the advent of technology. They know that sarcasm can sound so sweet coming from the lips of a pretty girl. They know which boy that girl really belongs with. And they capitalize on all of those expectations to earn top marks with their teen comedy.

While it may be tough to buy Emma Stone's Olive as an unknown amongst the masses at her California high school, seeing as she looks and sounds like Emma Stone, we go with it anyway. We do buy that she's a virgin, however, and also that she might feasibly invent a weekend whirl so as to get her gossip-giddy pal off her back. But, of course, word gets around and ' to make a long story short ' Olive agrees to help the closeted Brandon (Dan Byrd) straighten his reputation by having a fake fling with him at a party. (Their 'actingâ?� out of the deed is hilarious.)

Although Olive enjoys her newfound sense of scandal, the school's lovelorn losers quickly come out of the woodwork to ask for similar favors in exchange for gift cards. Unfortunately for Olive, the more she whores out her reputation, the more she finds herself persecuted by some uptight Christian classmates as well as disapproving members of the administration.

Director Will Gluck (Fired Up!) and writer Bert V. Royal cleverly lay out the pieces that'll pay off later ' a catchy song in a birthday card, a favor extended back in grade school, a school assignment to read and discuss The Scarlet Letter ' and then introduce us to a considerable cast of characters, all framed within Olive's webcam confession of what really happened.

Gluck keeps the laughs coming, favoring genuine wit and knowing pop-culture references over the crude and crass. (It takes serious restraint to not milk a chuckle-inducing vibrator gag beyond its one scene.) Sly ones, like a reference to Alfred Kinsey, make up for the few lame ducks, such as a Tom Cruise reference five years past its expiration date. It doesn't hurt that Gluck has one heck of an ensemble at his disposal.

Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are effortlessly facetious as Olive's parents. Teacher Thomas Haden Church and guidance counselor Lisa Kudrow are similarly sarcastic and sometimes surprisingly sincere in their scenes. Amanda Bynes finds herself playing the bubbly blond villainess that she once played against, while Byrd takes a would-be gay teen stereotype and not only does funny without being mincing, but also proves critically sympathetic when it comes to sparking this whole charade.

Really, Easy A is Stone's show. From smartass to smoldering, from vixen to vulnerable, it's a star-making performance that grounds the film with enough emotion to counteract the screenplay's potential for glib overload. Stone has been charming before ' as the big sister, the brooding teen, the big crush ' but here, she's the whole package, a ball of moxie and mixed emotions the likes of which might be found in any actual high school hallway.

The 'Be careful what you sayâ?� and 'Be careful what you wish forâ?� lessons are nothing new, but they're still valid ones that don't feel too forced. Easy A has a little bit of heart to go with a lot of laughs, and it has enough of both that it deserves to share a shelf with the likes of Mean Girls, Election and Clueless. It's that good.

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