So I likely would never have bothered with Easy A if several things hadn’t caught my eye:
- a funny trailer;
- a fairly clever concept;
- the classic literature tie-in;
- the surprisingly rapturous reviews;
- Emma Stone, whose career I have semi-followed since I first saw her in the sadly short-lived television series Drive (and who, incidentally, was one of the bright spots of Superbad).
In other respects, Easy A distinguishes itself from others of its kind by flipping the typical plot of “horny teenage boy wants to stop being the odd man out and finally have sex just like everyone else in class”: the protagonist happens to be female, and almost none of the pupils in the small Californian town the movie takes place in have actually had sex. But they are still affected by the expectation that they should have (had) sex, an expectation fuelled by, among other things, prior movies of this genre. It’s really quite clever, and something I did not really anticipate before sitting down to watch the film.
Rumour has it there are spoilers from here on in.
What is apparent from the trailer is how the movie comments on gender roles: When the previously unremarkable and unnoticed Olive (Emma Stone) is talked into loudly simulating intercourse to fend off suspicions that a friend of hers is gay, the plan is a complete success — for her friend. The other boys instantly forget their suspicions and that he had been a frequent target for bullying just days prior, and welcome him in their midst. He has (apparently) had sex with a girl, which does not just make him automatically heterosexual, it also gives him an edge over the rest of the class, not many (if any) of whom have had this experience. For Olive, too, there is an instant change: where she had previously been ignored, she is now notorious, openly gawked at and even shunned. The film neatly exposes a double standard that is not restricted to the peer groups of 17-year-olds that are seen in the movie.
That’s not to say that Olive’s new life is devoid of any perks. She quite enjoys her newfound attention initially, and uses her tarnished reputation as a slut to do similar favours for other boys at the lower end of the high school pecking order — in exchange for money or gift certificates. She quickly finds out, however, that notoriety has significant downsides, too, and the situation escalates until her faux-personality negatively impacts her real life. The turning point, when she decides that the charade has to stop, comes when a boy threatens to force himself on her, arguing that he paid for the privilege and expecting her to behave according to her reputation. The disparity in benefits is once again driven home when Olive tries to get the boys (and one woman) who she lied for to tell the truth, only to be refused; her former “partners” are understandably reluctant to expose their subterfuge, which has significantly improved their lives and continues to do so.
The film is a comedy, of course, so there is a happy ending. And if my synopsis/analysis has focused on the more dramatic elements, then because that’s where the heft of the film is. But it is a comedy and remains quite funny throughout, with much of the humour coming from Olive’s witty remarks and her wacky laissez-faire parents. Think Juno, just less pretentious, contrived and annoying, and you’re not far off the mark.
There would have been an opportunity to depict the town as a completely over-the-top place, populated by the typical high school clichés (dumb jocks, a popular clique around a queen bee, Jesus freaks, super-nerdy nerds, nonconformist goths, ineffectual teachers, “fascist” teachers, etc.). The film’s writers thankfully and surprisingly refrained from doing that, maybe making the film less outrageously funny (and outrageous), but also giving it a semblance of realism in exchange. Characters who resemble these archetypes do exist, but as the film goes on, they gain in depth. Not much, mind you, and it really is quite subtle for this type of film. But there really aren’t any truly evil characters in Easy A, not even a true central villain. And Olive isn’t completely kind-hearted either, so while she’s the main character, she isn’t perfect. The film isn’t in any way naturalistic, but the attempts at “dimensionalising” at least some of the characters are appreciated.
^= One of the boys states that he’s gotten far more attention from other girls since allegedly fooling around with Olive. So there are obviously women out there, too, who put much stock in men’s reputations and supposed sexual experience.
^= The leader of the resident Christian clique comes closest to this role, but unlike so many of her peers in similar movies, she’s not a hypocrite. She seems to genuinely believe in what she preaches, and even acknowledges her difficulties in reconciling “tolerance for everybody” and “antipathy towards gays and harlots”. Plus, she grew up in a fundamentalist preacher’s household and is possibly a closet lesbian.