If you bemoan the fact that there hasn’t been a fresh, original and funny high school comedy in a long time, get thee to “Easy A,” which updates Hester Prynne’s dilemma in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” in somewhat the same way Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless” revised Jane Austen’s “Emma” 15 years ago.
“The rumors of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated,” begins Olive (Emma Stone), as she explains how she tried to evade questioning about her weekend plans by her overly-aggressive best-friend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), by concocting a tale that implied that she lost her virginity to a college boy. Unfortunately, this fiction was overheard by judgmental, sanctimonious, ultra-Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes), who spread the scandalous story all over Ojai High School, causing Olive to be shunned by the snotty cliques. Since her reputation is already ruined, Olive sews a scarlet “A” on her blouse and adopts such a floozy façade that her friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) proposes that she act as if she was having sex with him too so people won’t realize he’s gay. She does – quite publicly, in fact – causing other hapless misfits and nerds to line up to pay for her “pretend” favors in order to boost their social standing. And then she unwittingly becomes involved when the indiscreet guidance counselor wife (Lisa Kudrow) of her favorite teacher (Thomas Hayden Church) is caught in a compromising situation.
What saves Olive’s sanity are her free-spirited, ultra-cool parents, Dill and Rosemary Penderghast (Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson), who have obviously instilled in her the spunky confidence that causes her to triumph in the end.
While capturing the insidious silliness of high school culture, screenwriter Bert V. Royal and director Will Gluck pay tribute to the master-of-this-genre John Hughes, showing a clip of Molly Ringwald from “Sixteen Candles.” And captivating Emma Stone radiates genuine, unpretentious vitality, giving us the real lowdown about the gossip.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Easy A” is a sassy, sharp 7. It’s a cleverly edgy twist on the classic morality fable.