Sixteen Scandals: Emma Stone fuels gossip and pines for John Hughes.
Sixteen Scandals: Emma Stone fuels gossip and pines for John Hughes.

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High school. A redhead who feels invisible. Trash talk, misunderstandings, helping geeks boast that they scored, and, of course, a seemingly unattainable cool guy. No, it’s not Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink but Easy A, a sex comedy that’s purportedly based on The Scarlet Letter but owes a bigger debt to a certain king of ’80s teen angst. He’s even referenced by Olive, our lovely nerd protagonist: “Just once I want my life to be like an ’80s movie,” she says in a video confessional. “But nooo—John Hughes didn’t direct my life.”

Is she sure about that? With Superbad’s Emma Stone playing the heroine—good-looking, funny, whip-smart, but lonely—you can’t help but think of the travails of Molly Ringwald, yet the parallels are not so heavy-handed as to sink what by reasonable expectation should be another throwaway teen movie. (Particularly one that’s penned by a green screenwriter, Bert V. Royal, and directed by Will Gluck, executive producer of last year’s awful Fired Up!)

Not terrible doesn’t equal indelible, however; Easy A is simply an agreeable and relatively witty surprise. Much of the credit goes to Stone, a unique, husky-voiced beauty who can rattle off beyond-her-years chatter without making it sound script-clever. When the film begins, Stone’s Olive is a self-described “anonymous” good girl, besties with a bit of a bitch (Aly Michalka) but otherwise the straight-A type with progressive parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and, of course, her virginity. But when she lies about a date to get out of camping with her friend, the fib—as fibs must—gets more involved. Yes, they had fun. Yes, they kissed. And yes, they went all the way. Whoops, did Olive say that out loud?

Olive really spent the weekend hanging out in her room, but the story of losing her V-card travels fast and furiously, and is of particular interest to a holier-than-thou Christian classmate (Amanda Bynes) and every boy who shares the same hallways. When Olive can’t rein in the rumor, she decides instead to own it. Her modest wardrobe is ditched for the “whore couture” of corsets and short shorts. And, like the similarly bedeviled character in the novel her lit class is studying, Olive adorns her tops with a Hester Prynne-pretty “A.”

Then Olive starts…helping guys out. First it’s a gay classmate (Dan Byrd) who wants to pass as straight; together they jump on a bed and grunt behind closed doors at a party. Then it’s other outcasts who wouldn’t mind a bad reputation, giving Olive money or gift cards in exchange for the right to say they fooled around with her. Obviously, things are going to get out of control, keeping Olive from a romance with Todd (Penn Badgley).

At times Easy A feels more grown-up than its main characters, from all the ’80s references (do girls still read Judy Blume?) to the fact that its sharpest moments come when Olive is interacting with adults. Thomas Haden Church, as Olive’s favorite teacher, gets off a few zingers, and Tucci and Clarkson’s Mr. and Mrs. are not only more well-rounded than most comedy prop parents, they’re as funny as Olive. (Dad describes his daughter’s new look as “stripper, but a high-end stripper. For governors and athletes.”) With its best parts relegated to the sidelines, the film’s central plot at times feels a bit neglected, and overall leaves little impression except that Stone is a star. But we already knew that.