"Easy A" stars Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast, a totally innocuous and anonymous student who is branded a slut by her high school's hardcore Christian contingent she's overheard lying about her own sexual exploits. While at first she enjoys the newfound attention, things quickly turn sour when she lets the ruse go on for too long.
Stone proves that she is in fact a star on the rise, showing that the charisma on display in "Zombieland" and the acting chops at work in "Paper man" were no fluke. On camera for most every scene, she does all the heavy lifting in this one, completely charming you with her smarts and humility. She's wise and worldly enough to make jokes about "Kinsey 6 sex homosexuals" and "Huckleberry Finn," is a connoisseur of John Hughes films and to discuss at length the relative merits of both the 1926 and 1995 film versions of "The Scarlett Letter" and as preparation materials for a test the novel.
Screenwriter Bert Royal does a nice job of not giving into the familiar trap of making his kids seem even smarter by making the adults total morons. Olive's parents, played hilariously by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, are intelligent, caring, compassionate adults. And Thomas Hayden Church is perfectly cast as Mr. Griffith, Olive's favorite teacher who, as luck would have it, is teaching the kids about "The Scarlett Letter." His Griffith is genuinely cool, not that faux "teacher cool," at one point starting to rap his lecture before dismissing the idea as the sort of dumb thing cool teachers do in the movies.
The film asks you to try to imagine a world in which Stone, Penn Badgley and Aly Michalka are not among the three most lusted after kids in the school. This is a problem common to the teen comedy, but "Easy A" goes further than most. Stone -- who at one point bemoans her "complete lack of allure" -- may not be everybody's taste, but Michalka is a blonde bombshell whose identifying characteristic at school is "big t---," and even a 40-something hetero male can plainly see that Badgley is totally dreamy.
Unfortunately the film also periodically crosses the line from making sport of the Christian kids' homophobia and self-righteousness -- hey, have at it -- into mocking their faith itself. It's unnecessary and unfunny and does nothing to move the story along. That said, it's a minor quibble that likely won't even hit the brain pans of the target audience.
The teen sex comedy has been a Hollywood staple for decades, but it didn't really hit its stride until the 1980s, when the idea that kids were bumping uglies was no longer quite so taboo. What sets "Easy A" apart from the others is how chaste it is. And yet the film manages to keep things believable -- make no mistake, Olive desperately wants to have sex.
Clever, funny, occasionally hilarious and often thoughtful, "Easy A" nicely recreates the slings and arrows of high school sexual politics without pandering or dumbing things down.
"Easy A," rated PG-13, opens nationally Sept. 17