Film Review: Easy A

The filmmakers' determination to make a naughty teen comedy based on deception (and Nathaniel Hawthorne) is undone by age-blind miscasting, a heavy hand and an overall misjudged tone.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter inspires the high-school comedy Easy A, in which Olive (Emma Stone) finds herself excoriated by the entire student body when word mistakenly gets out that she is the campus harlot. In actuality, she is only pretending to be, and profiting from it, via an assortment of geeks desperate to have it be known that they’ve done the nasty with her.

Director Will Gluck and screenwriter Bert V. Royal strain to make this a sassy teen affair a la Clueless or Heathers, but the strain shows all too obviously. So does the miscasting, as most of the lead actors appear to be well into their 20s, and far too glossily groomed to be convincing high-schoolers. (Remember that “Simpsons” takeoff of “Beverly Hills 90210,” when “Luke Perry” smiled and his face suddenly broke into a mass of crow’s feet?) This is almost oddly fitting, as many of the characters’ actions are way too mature for their supposed age, more like the libidinal, snarky carryings-on of “Desperate Housewives.” A subplot featuring a gay character (Dan Byrd, good under the circumstances) who begs Olive to pretend-tryst with him to prevent being bullied has an antediluvian feel to it in 2010, and hardly seems the best solution to his problem.

Easy A is fitfully amusing, largely due to Stone, who, although too mature and glamorous to be completely convincing as an initially anonymous campus nerd, has an irrepressibly innate sense of fun, improvising wacky dance moves to her silly theme song, Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine,” and going through the labored rigors of the script with a trouper’s commitment. She’s funny, brandishing a DVD of the Colleen Moore version of The Scarlet Letter, comparing it favorably to that other Moore version, Demi’s, in which she “took a lot of baths.” (What she doesn’t mention is the name of the now-forgotten Colleen, who in her day was ten times the star Demi ever was.)

After Juno, parents of teens are now more wacky BFFs than serious guardians, and, as Olive’s kin, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson outdo themselves for a perky cutesiness that cloys, along with an adopted black son there just for joke purposes. Amanda Bynes gets some laughs as a self-righteous Bible-banger who leads the upright anti-Olive faction. Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow, at her most snippily overwrought, play married faculty members: He paws lustfully at her in the classroom, uncaring of any student witnesses. Of course, on a campus with a dress code which allows Olive to show up in seriously cleavage-revealing bustiers (with the requisite embroidered A), I guess anything goes.