Stone's a Dazzling Non-Harlot in 'Easy A'

Directed by: Will Gluck, Runtime: 92 minutes
Grade: B+

Something's brewing with Emma Stone's talent. Since she began following the momentum from Superbad, where she plays the quirky apple of Jonah Hill's eye, her comedic talent has been taking shape in charming secondary roles -- from a not-to-hot turn in The House Bunny to her hard-ass gunslingin' in Zombieland. Easy A, a teenage comedy about abstinence and the cascade of communication in high-school, marks the stress-test for Stone's proclivity as a leading lady, ratcheting up her eccentricity for the spotlight's glare. "Grosse Pointe" writer Will Gluck directs this clever, cute spin on themes from "The Scarlet Letter" that proves an ideal frame for the actress' talent, a vibrantly easygoing patchwork of other comedies of its ilk that pays tribute -- both verbal and non -- to John Hughes's work. It's Emma Stone's charisma, though, that reconstructs the saccharine scaffolding into a memorable and often sincere experience.

Stone plays Olive, a run-of-the-mill student at Ojai High School who's often overlooked by her peers. She's not the geeky She's All That brand of anti-social girl, just someone who doesn't stand out from the crowd like her blond-'n-curly friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). That all changes, though, when a stiff bible-thumper named Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears the two girls' bathroom conversation, a flippant talk where Olive fibs about a sexual relationship with a college guy. What starts as Olive's off-the-cuff attempt for brush off her friend turns into a mini-monsoon of gossip, transforming her stature from invisibility to sticking out like a sore thumb. Yet instead of quashing the rumors, all untrue since she's still a virgin, Olive embraces them once she gets a taste of the fawning popularity that a "sexually-active" girl generates. It's when the lies intensify, and Olive plays with fire by solicits her fibbing services, that things mushroom out of control.

Easy A isn't a pioneer with the troubles that Olive endures -- only reaching a point of novel reflection later on in her reckless endeavors -- but that doesn't stop it from being a pleasurable, well-executed one. Her break-from-the-mold emergence fits somewhere between the contexts of peer perception in both Juno and Mean Girls and the morality machinations in Saved!, though Olive's satirical confessions say little more than its influences. And the vibe throughout radiates that of John Hughes' earthy discernment of teenage angst, bloating the characters into caricatures yet keeping them anchored with inherently human traits. It's all very familiar, even down to Olive's accepting hippy-like parents, whom Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson delightfully portray. Her family's conversations, especially one over their adopted son's lineage and another over a vulgar word that plants Olive in detention, earn the film's heartiest laughs.

Gluck's true strengths, though, lie in the amusing ways he and his screenwriter perceive communication in Easy A, along with how the ideas stirring around Olive tie into Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel about burning witches at the stake. From the sweeping shot of gossip's pathway as it cycles through the school's hallways to the fickle shifts in acceptance of Olive's "transgressions", Bert V. Royal's rhythmic and quick-witted script remains infectious as it weaves around all the simmering scrutinizing chatter. As Olive's dual-wielding reputation thrives -- as an experienced harlot with the masses and as a gifted liar with those that solicit her embellishment services -- she sardonically begins wearing a red "A" on her chest. It's a brilliant move she cooks up in a dervish of Victoria's Secret lace, red fabric, hormones, and contempt towards the gossip machine, using Hawthorne's symbolism as a quick springboard into empowerment.

But, really, Easy A's components only serve as the perfunctory surroundings for Emma Stone's comedic delivery, which the young actress molds into faultlessly. She takes Olive's facetious quirk and makes it absolutely magnetic, taking her confession-style webcam broadcast and turning into a telling and funny chronicle. Even though she generates humor when she rubs elbows with her gay friend (her first "customer", played by Dan Byrd), flirts with her costume-wearing crush from grade school (Penn Badgley), and uncomfortably accepts both scorn and airtight hugs from Christian zealot Marianne, she reinforces the comedy with an innate ability to give off tenderness in the serious moments -- including one in a Catholic confessional that shows she's got plenty of tried-and-true dramatic talent alongside her humorous punch. Simply, she takes the framework in Gluck's film a cut above, proving that well-chosen casting can make all the difference.

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