While it’s annoying that audiences have to wait about a half-decade for every great female-centric teen comedy, this year’s Easy A easily joins 1995’s Clueless, 2000’s Bring It On, and 2004’s Mean Girls on the Mount Rushmore of this underfed genre, with Emma Stone’s Olive arguably the funniest, most intelligent lead to appear in one of these things yet. The droll, wise-beyond-her-years “best friend” not only takes center stage in Easy A, but receives an air-tight vehicle worthy of her wit.
Her gawky precociousness and indifference to high school niceties undercutting her beauty (an attribute the film thankfully never denies), Olive makes her classmates’ radar in a big way when she’s mistakenly believed to have lost her virginity to a college student. After she allows a desperate gay friend to pretend she’s a notch on his bedpost, Olive fake-sells her body to other boys anxious to fake-lose their cherry, flaunting her unearned slut status by wearing a red A on her black bustier.
While it’s hard not to compare Easy A to its predecessors, a quality the film invites with tributes to John Hughes and Lloyd Dobler, the film shines admirably in any context. Where Molly Ringwald heroines shared the camera’s focus with her male counterparts, Penn Badgley’s sweetly dorky suitor is forced to wait patiently for interactions with Olive, who only briefly gives up the spotlight for plot-advancing purposes. Not that this is some Chevy Chase film where no one’s allowed to be half as interesting as the star. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are just as sympathetic and delightful as their on-screen daughter, and you only wish your English teacher was as kindly droll as Thomas Haden Church (Fred Armisen, Lisa Kudrow and Malcolm McDowell play less understanding but equally hilarious authority figures).
As bright as the other actors are — Amanda Bynes’ hysterical fundamentalist will make you forget all about her Twitter — the film undeniably belongs to Stone. When Olive’s adventures turn sour and the tears finally flow, she never surrenders the character’s strength, humor, and agency. Although you could call her a cross between Lindsay Lohan and Lizzy Caplan in Mean Girls (the red hair helps), Olive has even more in common with the soulful wise guys of Bill Murray. And you don’t need me to tell you how rarely a woman gets to play such a role.
Those who prefer Welcome To The Dollhouse to the films mentioned in the first paragraph will complain Easy A fails to capture high school’s ugliness, but the movie fully acknowledges and respects the sadness and frustration teenagers (and adults) suffer due to public appearance. More Buffy’s Sunnydale than Angela Chase’s Liberty High, Easy A’s world isn’t one where pain doesn’t exist, but one where it can be learned from and battled entertainingly with good intentions and generous humor. And few have ever combined those qualities quite like Olive.