Director Will Gluck would probably like to parlay “Easy A” into his coronation as the Twitter era’s John Hughes (he even slips in a clip from “Sixteen Candles”). But what this high school morality fable really recalls is “Clueless” — a comedy of very contemporary ill manners drawn from classic literature, an immersion in the young-adult lexicon and a potentially career-making showcase for its lead actress, Emma Stone. Though it forces auds to swallow some cafeteria-style baloney (is the American high school really such a hotbed of Puritanism?), the Sept. 17 release could achieve some kind of wonderful among targeted teens.
Loosely inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne and written by Bert V. Royal, “Easy A” has a title that might qualify as quadruple entendre, referring as it does to a grade; a girl, Olive Penderghast (Stone); sex; and Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter.” When Olive’s best friend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka), refuses to believe her pal spent the weekend home alone, a frustrated Olive makes up an elaborate story about having lost her virginity to a college boy — and is overheard in the girls’ room by the ultra-religious Marianne Bryant (a reference to Anita?), a one-woman Spanish Inquisition. Despite Olive’s protestations, Marianne, played with butt-clenching perfection by the soon-to-be-retiring Amanda Bynes, spreads the Olive story all over school, causing its subject to be treated as a pariah — just as anyone, naturally, who had sex in high school would be.
Parents will find “Easy A” reassuring, given that it treats secondary-school students as heartless mullahs eager to maintain a fundamentalist approach toward sexual exploration. This is fantastic, of course, as is most of the film: Few people have parents as cool and funny as Dill and Rosemary Penderghast (Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson), and few high school girls are as confident, smart, funny or hot as Olive Penderghast, and if they are, they certainly aren’t as invisible as Olive seems to be.
The only reason anyone pays attention to Olive, according to this daffy film, is her supposed sex life, which shifts into a fictional high gear when Olive realizes the good she can do with her ruined reputation: She pretends to have sex with her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) so people won’t think he’s gay (a pipe dream, frankly). She has “pretend sex” with various nerds, kickstarting their social lives. She starts accepting payment, in the form of gift cards to Target or Office Max, while her reputation goes straight to Chapter 11. You might say she does the time without doing the crime.
The idea that Olive’s supposed promiscuity would be such a hot topic among her peers is plausible enough, but if their high school is such a breeding ground for gossip, wouldn’t the real story leak out as well? Not in the world of “Easy A,” which, for all its edgy jokes and very funny dialogue, is a very morally upright tale — and, though Marianne’s ungenerous brand of Christianity is lampooned, a Christian story: Olive takes upon herself the supposed “sins” of the world — homosexuality, nerdiness, etc. — and delivers a form of redemption. She even takes the rap when Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow), the wife of her favorite teacher (Thomas Haden Church), gets in a sticky situation at school. That Olive is a candidate for canonization never crosses anyone’s mind.
Is Olive practicing prostitution? Hair-splitters would say so, but hair-splitters likely won’t be seeing “Easy A,” with its silliness, over-the-topitude and fabulous leading lady, who caps her fresh, charming performance with a musical number at the end of the film. No one will hold it against her.
Tech credits are tops all around.