The smell of freshly ground coffee beans and the chatter of students streaming across the Diag can only mean one thing: the beginning of fall semester. And what better way to usher in a shiny new school year than with an easy-breezy high school comedy — an heir to 2004’s “Mean Girls”?
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Gradually breaking out of the role of “that-chick-who-got-punched-in-the-eye-by-Jonah-Hill-in-‘Superbad’,” Emma Stone plays Olive, a smart, wonderfully self-aware girl invisible to the walking clichés strutting around her high school. When Olive can’t admit to her best friend that the majority of her weekend was spent dancing on her dresser belting out the lyrics to “Pocketful of Sunshine,” she fabricates an initially harmless lie about losing her virginity to an anonymous community college guy. A few periods later, the rumor circulates rapidly around the school community, instantly metamorphosing her into the class floozy.
But instead of running away from her new title, Olive embraces it. For the price of a Home Depot gift card, or, in the case of one frugal desperate, a 20-percent-off coupon to Bath & Body Works, she begins a black-market enterprise soliciting fake sex to geeky boys and closeted gays. She even goes as far as embroidering a scarlet “A” (à la Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter”) onto her lacy black corsets, looking like she emerged straight out of a Parisian boudoir.
“I always thought pretending to lose my virginity would be a little more special. Judy Blume should have prepared me for that,” the c’est la vie Olive proclaims.
Confidently grabbing hold of the film’s reins, director Will Gluck (“Fired Up!”) imbues “Easy A” with enough barb to zing, but without sacrificing the good cheer of a comedy — its bright, scissor-sharp dialogue never recedes to toxic snark. It also helps that the film is supported by a cast of gold. Patricia Clarkson (“Cairo Time”) and the always-great Stanley Tucci (“The Devil Wears Prada”) play Olive’s happy-go-lucky, hippie parents with screwball élan. Amanda Bynes (“She’s the Man”), who announced and then shortly unannounced her retirement from acting on Twitter, almost steals the show as the goody-goody Christian girl thirsting after the salvation of Olive’s supposedly depraved soul.
None of this means, however, that “Easy A” is without its stumbling points. Olive undergoes a bizarre quest for morality and religion late in her charade, and the film spends too much time indulging in its array of admittedly stock characters. Yet for each of its missteps, “Easy A” rewards the viewer with more than double the charm. In this kind of genre film, it’s really about the attitude behind the celluloid, and “Easy A” possesses this in spades.
A lot of this has to do with the film’s young heroine. With her flowy auburn waves and rockstar rasp, Stone is truly a pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan reincarnated. If the ’80s brought us the cherub-faced, misunderstood Molly Ringwald, the ’90s California-sweet, dizzy dame Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless” and the ’00s foaming-at-the-mouth-for-popularity Lohan in “Mean Girls,” Stone’s Olive is everything we want our new decade to represent. She’s a protagonist self-aware enough to envy and understand her pop-culture predecessors, but mired in enough teenaged insecurity junk to be relatable. Although Olive is a role that any of Disney’s pretty young things could potentially pull off, Stone’s cool, genuine deadpan singlehandedly pulls the film into the pantheon of teen culture classics. Make no mistake, Hollywood — Stone has the stuff of a superstar.
This fame, however, might last more transiently than expected. With Silverstone having retreated into the background only a short while after catapulting into superstardom, and Lohan going down the express train to celebrity annihilation, the future has never been too friendly to these talented young ingénues. Let’s just hope that Stone isn’t met with similar obstacles.