Movies: Easy A * * *
(15A, General release)
By rights, Easy A should be a lot funnier and more likeable than it is. In Emma Stone it boasts a winning and charismatic young leading lady, and its plot is a clever twist on a classic literary tale. .
Stone is Olive Penderghast, a senior-year student at a California high school who narrates her recent adventures to a webcam. A good student from a happy home, Olive has been a pretty anonymous pupil at Ojah High School until an overheard misunderstanding turns her into a social pariah
Olive has never even had a boyfriend, but when she grows tired of admitting she's spent yet another weekend alone she tells her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) that she slept with a college boy. Unfortunately for Olive, this fake confession is overheard by one Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes), who happens to be the zealous leader of the school's born-again-Christian group. Before you know it the rumour has spread that Olive is a slut, and students who'd ignored her until five minutes ago are casting doubtful glances.
To her surprise, Olive rather likes all this attention. She begins dressing in a hoochy fashion and thumbing her nose at the outraged Christians. But things get complicated when a gay fellow student who'd like to be thought of as a macho stud asks her to pretend that they've slept together.
She agrees, and soon there's a queue of needy high school outcasts begging for similar favours. Olive starts to enjoy her notoriety less when she's accused of breaking up her favourite teacher's marriage, and learns that it's much easier to destroy your reputation than resuscitate it.
The classic novel all this is borrowed from is Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, with the important distinction that, unlike poor old Hester Prynne, Olive is complicit in her ostracisation. Will Gluck's film makes confident references to Hawthorne throughout, as well as to the movies of John Hughes and much else besides. But for all this bluster it significantly fails to make any of its underlying drama resonant or real.
Emma Stone keeps the whole show going with an excellent and grounded performance as Olive, and is helped by strong supporting turns from Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her parents, as well as Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Haden Church. But you retain the nagging feeling that Easy A could and should have been a lot funnier.