Multiple reviews are hailing Easy A as the best high school comedy since Mean Girls (or Clueless, depending on the critic), adding up to a shocking 87% positive of 157 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, with a perfect 100% of Top Critics approving. I too thought that’s just crazy, so I decided to investigate for myself. After the unanimous praise I expected to be disappointed (Juno still smarts like a fresh wound), but within five minutes the movie was winning me over thanks to a montage of a musical birthday card providing the cheesy soundtrack for a stay-at-home weekend. By the end of the film I had laughed many times and couldn’t help but endorse the majority opinion.
Easy A is sort of the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang of the high school movie genre, likewise featuring a narrator who self-consciously comments on the conventions (and cliches) of the genre as the present film re-enacts or rejects them. Some of the film’s more illustrious predecessors are even shown in clips, distinctly shown in digitized form as if excerpted from low-quality uploads to YouTube. As the film also belongs to the subgenre of classic-literature-reset-in-high-school as epitomized by Clueless, other cinematic versions of The Scarlet Letter are both shown and discussed, with knowing reference to the looseness of their adaptations.
It’s not an insult to the rest of the movie to say that Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson absolutely steal the show whenever they appear as Emma Stone’s parents. A lot of the credit for these scenes does go to the script, which is not just funny but also refreshing to see a parent-child relationship that is not defined by embarrassment or resentment. (I’m trying to think of the last high school movie in which parents are not depicted as buffoons… help, anyone? Even the otherwise sophisticated An Education made this elementary blunder.) Tom Haden Church also deserves recognition as yet another sympathetic adult. (Something’s fishy here — almost as if this movie is not trying to patronize pre-teens!)
The movie’s not perfect: the usually resourceful Amanda Bynes (herself a veteran of the literature-adapted-to-high-school premise) is wasted, not given much to work with as the self-righteous Christian obligatory to the most recent iterations of the genre. Either her performance or the material (or both) lacks the depth of Mandy Moore’s character in Saved!, but Bynes’ role has more to do with the film’s appropriation of The Scarlet Letter than anti-Christian stereotyping. At one point Emma Stone actually opens a Bible in a rare non-sarcastic moment, though it feels a little like a CYA scene to pre-empt criticism that the film depicts religion negatively.
One of the film’s delightful touches is the unambiguous identity of its setting in Ojai, California, as opposed to a generic suburban Everytown. Even more unconventionally, it was filmed entirely on location there.
In any case, to classify Easy A as a “teen comedy” would be unfair, though the teens in my audience did enjoy it. Rather, it’s a worthy contribution to the Hollywood tradition in which the American high school is a microcosm of adult society, or its petri dish. Easy A has one thing in common The Expendables: the quality of each film is accurately indicated by its title.