PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Easy A': Sly Enough

This teenage no-sex comedy wants nothing more than to be a John Hughes movie.

Easy A

Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Screen Gems (Sony)
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-09-17

“John Hughes did not direct my life,” Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) says near the beginning of Easy A. And yet, this teenage no-sex comedy wants nothing more than to be a John Hughes movie.

More specifically, it wants to be a John Hughes movie based on The Scarlet Letter, as Olive reveals that she has been ostracized by her classmates after she pretends she’s had sex when she really hasn’t. But the more pertinent cultural references for Easy A are Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and other '80s angsty teenager classics. Like Molly Ringwald’s Samantha in Sixteen Candles, Olive has no reputation at all. When she makes up a boyfriend to avoid admitting to her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) that she blew her off over the weekend, her friend misinterprets her lies as an admission that she is no longer a virgin. Through a highly unlikely chain of events, the girls are overheard in the bathroom and soon the entire school thinks that Olive has lost her virginity. For the first time ever, people are talking about Olive. She likes it, and so, instead of refuting the rumor, she decides to fuel it.

At first blush, it seems ridiculous that a girl in our internet-saturated society could get a reputation based only on a suggestion that she's had sex once. But Easy A makes a compelling case that, in the mosh-pit that is high school, any step out of line can lead to a change in standing. Of greater interest, however, is its own status, as a movie where not all teenagers are preternaturally worldly and perpetually horny. Though the prevailing media winds indicate that sex is as instinctual as breathing for the average 15-year-old, the reality is that it has always been and continues to be a mysterious and confusing concept, for teens as much as anyone.

Lying about sex is the connection between Easy A and The Scarlet Letter, however strained. Hester Prynne never had much fun wearing her letter, while Olive enjoys her trip through the rumor mill, for a while at least, even turning the trademark A into a fashion accessory. Easy A is sly enough to have her assert in one of her voice-over asides that films are known for trying to make classic literature "relevant" to the high school experience.

Here, such relevance is shaped by a suggestion that Puritanism is to blame for Olive’s situation. The initial rumors are spread by Marianne (Amanda Bynes), a pastor’s daughter who leads a group of evangelical students at the high school. Her obvious likeness to Mandy Moore in Saved begins and ends with her role as Olive's adversary. The movie forgets that the leader of an overtly religious clique in a highly secular school is far more likely to be ostracized than the girl everyone thinks is having sex.

Luckily, the majority of Easy A doesn’t belabor the literary source text and instead channels its true spiritual godfather, John Hughes, which makes for a much more fun movie. Stone gives a delightful performance that puts her in line to become this generation’s Ringwald.

Easy A is sprinkled with nods to Hughes, right down to the judicious use of songs by the Thompson Twins ("If You Were Here") and Simple Minds ("Don’t You Forget About Me") as well as iconic images (Judd Hirsch’s raised fist and John Cusack holding the boom-box over his head). Some references are subtler but equally satisfying: when Olive gives her underwear to a guy she just pretended to sleep with, you can’t help but think about Ringwald giving her panties to a clueless Anthony Michael Hall 25 years earlier.

Watching Hughes’ universe, teenagers could see themselves on screen pretty much as they thought of themselves. He respected his young characters and their struggles to define their own identities without interference from the adults in their lives. As Olive's parents, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson fill that blandly benevolent role in Easy A and still manage to provide many of the movie’s funniest moments. (Her dad is particularly inspired: in one scene, he declares that forcing everyone in the family to watch The Bucket List allows him to cross the movie off his bucket list.)

Olive's own best moments are alternately funny and poignant. Self-aware and brilliantly articulate, like so many kids in Hughes' movies, she learns a standard sort of lesson, to take control of her own image even if she makes some mistakes along the way. Taking a couple of pages out of the Ferris Bueller playbook, she engages in an impromptu musical number and eventually triumphs, despite teetering on the edge of disaster for the entire film.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.