All the self-awareness and saucy banter in the world can’t make Easy A consistently funny, nor can the copious snark, tired ‘80s references, and glib Scarlet Letter parallels that define its story. A lack of wit is, of course, to be expected from Will Gluck, director of last year’s insufferable Fired Up, though not from star Emma Stone, whose self-possessed, hot-yet-relatable charm is squandered by a tale short on the vivacious cleverness needed to achieve its Clueless dreams.
Stone is Olive, a high schooler who gets herself into skanky trouble when, to get her top-heavy friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) off her back, concocts a lie about losing her virginity (or “losing her v-card,” in the script’s wannabe-Diablo Cody lingo) that’s overheard, and then spread around campus, by Christian lunatic Marianne (Amanda Bynes). Labeled a slut, Olive not only embraces her newfound reputation, but turns it into an altruistic profit-making venture by agreeing to say she hooked up with a gay friend and scores of nerds (to improve their social standing) in exchange for retail gift cards. Before long, she’s sewing a big A onto her clothes in solidarity with supposed spiritual ancestor Hester Prynne, a literary link which Olive (narrating the action via vlog) bluntly addresses in one of countless instances in which the film simultaneously pokes fun at, and embraces, its clichéd teen-drama conventions.
Winking its way from start to finish, however, doesn’t generate nearly as many laughs as Bert V. Royal’s script thinks it will, and thus Easy A—boasting barely amusing supporting turns from Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s open-minded parents, and Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow as married school staffer—soon becomes manic and unjustifiably pleased with itself. Stone deftly sells cocksure poise while also hinting at the concealed pain lurking within, but her address-the-audience blather is often too smug for its own good, beginning with adult viewer-targeted praise for John Hughes movies and culminating with a tone-deaf slam of Demi Moore’s notoriously loose Scarlet Letter adaptation.
More frustrating, though, is that the movie superficially trades in Hawthornian themes only to carelessly toss them aside (and casually admit doing so) for feel-good happily-ever-afters, a decision that disproves its stated belief in classic literature’s relevance to modern life, and skins whatever scant meat existed on the proceedings’ bones. What’s left, then, are merely snappy one-liners and ersatz outrageous scenarios that strain to be cutely cutting, a situation that also plagues its condemnation of fundamentalist Jesus freaks, embodied by the humorless Amanda Bynes, as well-coiffed caricatures whose judgmental intolerance is more cartoony than menacing. It’s a performance that makes one wish Bynes really was opting for early retirement.