Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Emma Stone, Dan Byrd, Aly Michalka, Penn Badgley
Watch Easy A online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80s movies?” That’s the sound of Emma Stone hitting movie stardom in Easy A. A high school movie with brains, laughs and an important point to make, it’s one of the few great teen flicks of the last decade.
They’re enjoying something of a renaissance at present, thanks to movies such as Love, Simon, Blockers and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. They have in common a fresh perspective that brings diversity, new dimensions and real heart to the genre – and back in 2010, Will Gluck’s coming-of-age comedy did something similar.
Loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the film follows Olive (Stone), a pupil who’s bright but unnoticed – at least, until she agrees to help another student, Brandon (Dan Byrd), hide his homosexuality by pretending to have sex with him. Rumours spread, rumours turn to gossip and gossip turns to a scandal, leaving Olive branded as an easy girl. It’s the kind of small-scale slander that might not sound like a big deal, but slut-shaming has long been a mainstay of high schools (and far beyond), rooted in the kind of attitudes that underpin sexist social behaviour from a young age: while Olive is shamed and ostracised, the boys line up to give her gift cards in exchange for her lies, happy to receive praise from their peers for being busy in the bedroom.
The actual story may not be particularly close to Hawthorne’s text, but the fact that Bert V. Royal’s script (he based Brandon on himself) can still tap into the novel’s same themes decades after only highlights how perniciously embedded such double standards are. Picking them apart in a high school fuses them with related issues of peer pressure, conformity, humiliation, insecurity and acceptance of one’s own identity, sexuality and inexperience – all things that can be found, and are no less relevant, in hit Netflix series Sex Education, released nine years later.
It also allows Easy A to tackle something serious while harnessing the familiar tropes of high school movies to its advantage. From parties to awkward dates, it skips through the school calendar at a pace that rivals fellow modern classic Mean Girls, while cramming the corridors with amusing fellow pupils (Aly Michalka’s Rhiannon), laugh-out-loud teachers (Thomas Haden Church’s social media-hating Mr. Griffith) and charming potential romantic interests – watch out for You’s Penn Badgley as Woodchuck Todd, the goofy basketball mascot who brings a welcome dose of slapstick absurdity to events. Even Olive’s parents (the scene-stealing Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) are fleshed out and funny.
Stone, though, is the undisputed main attraction, and after Zombieland and Superbad, she relishes the chance to play a more rounded character. Her Olive is quick-witted and likeable, but, most of all, she’s whip-smart clever, and makes no apologies about it. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination – a rare achievement for a high school movie, even in 2011. (The sequence in which she repeatedly sings Pocketful of Sunshine alone surely justifies the nod.) Her star charisma, the endlessly quotable script and Gluck’s slick, gliding camera moves, combine to produce a knowing, winningly nostalgic teen movie that looks back at the genre’s supposed heyday, then brings that John Hughes warmth kicking and screaming into the modern day.
Easy A is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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