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(2010) (Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A high school student must contend with gossip -- some of it self-perpetuated -- about her sudden promiscuous reputation.
Olive Penderghast (EMMA STONE) is a 17-year-old high school student who believes she's invisible to most of her fellow students despite the support of her parents, Dill (STANLEY TUCCI) and Rosemary (PATRICIA CLARKSON), and English teacher Mr. Griffith (THOMAS HADEN CHURCH) who's teaching his class "The Scarlett Letter."

Her fortunes change when ultra-religious Marianne (AMANDA BYNES) overhears Olive tell a white lie to her best friend, Rhiannon (ALY MICHALKA), about losing her virginity. Olive only told her that to stop Rhiannon's constant nagging about Olive's weekend, but it doesn't take long for Marianne to tell her boyfriend, Micah (CAM GIGANDET), and others, with the scandalous tale quickly spreading to the entire student body.

While school mascot Todd (PENN BADGLEY) doesn't pay any heed to the gossip, Olive's newfound notoriety soon has her meeting both guidance counselor Mrs. Griffith (LISA KUDROW) and Principal Gibbons (MALCOLM McDOWELL), the latter of whom puts her into detention for some salty language. It's there that she meets Brandon (DAN BYRD) who wants to stop the torment of being a closeted gay student and thus asks Olive to lie that she slept with him to fool others into thinking he's straight.

She reluctantly does, but that faux encounter and the subsequent rumors that quickly spread soon have her in the spotlight of various students. Among them are other guys who similarly want to benefit from her reputation, while Marianne and her followers want her kicked out of school. Realizing she can't beat the gossip that turns into other rumors, Olive decides to play up the lifestyle of a floozy, including proudly wearing her own letter "A" on her clothed chest.

From that point on, and as her friendship with Rhiannon takes a turn for the worst, Olive must contend with that, many of the guys wanting their name and reputation associated with her, and other developments that come along with her self-perpetuating status.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
You're living in the past it's a new generation
A girl can do what she wants to do and that's
What I'm gonna do
An' I don't give a damn 'bout my bad reputation

Joan Jett "Bad Reputation"

Although people have to deal with their reputation throughout much of their lives, there are few years as stigmatizing, rewarding, agonizing and about a gazillion other positive and negative descriptors as those spent in high school. And that's particularly true for girls. While some boys (nerds, brains, gays, pot-heads, etc.) have to deal with negative group think about them, most girls must contend with it day in and day out. And much of that revolves around sex.

If they don't fool around or go all of the way, they're frigid ice queens. On the flip side, if they're caught kissing, fooling around or going all of the way with a boy -- or just a rumor of that gets out -- they're considered loose and given any number of derogatory, promiscuity related labels. Gossip has always had the ability to spread like wildfire, but in today's always connected online world, any talk of such a girl becomes instantly known among both friends and enemies.

That's part of the gist of "Easy A," one of the rare high school comedies that revolves around girls and not boys, especially when it comes to matters of the libido. As such, it joins the ranks of the likes of "Mean Girls" and "Clueless" as a smart, observational comedy about the hell that is high school for many a kid. It also follows in the trail paved by that latter film in being based on and providing a contemporary retelling of a well-known classic tale.

In this case, that would be Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlett Letter." For those who don't recall that classic 1850 work from high school English class, it's the tale of Hester Prynne, a wife accused of adultery and forced to wear the letter "A" on her clothing to inform everyone of her reputation (no, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were not around then to do that sort of dirty work). Considering its Puritanical setting, the story wasn't exactly filled with wit or a spunky protagonist.

Thankfully, both of those are present in screenwriter Bert V. Royal's very loose adaptation of Hawthorne's story. As directed by Will Gluck and with star Emma Stone getting the ball rolling by telling her tale (via voice-over narration which is really the audio pulled from her online video confession, if you will), the story is obviously designed as something of a fairy tale, what with Stone's 17-year-old Olive Penderghast supposedly being invisible to her classmates despite her drop-dead gorgeous looks, husky meets sultry voice and self-deprecating and quick wit.

To stop her va-va-voom friend (Alyson Michalka) from haranguing her about her love life (or lack thereof), Olive lies about fooling around with a college boy. Little does she know that ultra-religious Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears this and quickly spreads the tale of Olive's promiscuity, quickly labeling her with one of those derogatory sexual reputations. Eventually realizing she's powerless to stop that, and sensing a closeted gay classmate's need to have that stigma lifted from his social reputation, Olive agrees to lie about having sex with Brandon (Dan Byrd). From that point on, her reputation clearly precedes her and she finally figures she might as well make the most of perpetuating her own bad reputation.

The fact that she accepts payment (mostly in the form of store gift cards and such) from her faux Johns could have pushed the envelope too far into prostitution territory and thus potentially smothered the humor, and I'm sure there will be viewers who don't think any of this is funny (especially since the ultra religious Marianne and her followers are painted as the villains). For everyone else, however, the filmmakers deliver enough observational comedy, witty dialogue and get such a winning performance out of Stone that most of the offering goes down fairly easily and entertainingly.

In fact, and as was the very similar case with Lindsey Lohan in "Mean Girls" and Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless," this could very well be Stone's breakthrough role as she nails the part with just the right combination of smarts, approachability, snarky attitude and more. While an Oscar push for her would be, well, pushing it, I see little reason why she won't receive a Golden Globe nomination for her terrific work here.

While Bynes can't do much with her stereotypical ultra-religious character (who unfortunately isn't created on equal footing with the protagonist, which could have created even better comedic sparks and clashing), Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are fun and funny as Olive's ultra-liberal parents. Thomas Hayden Church and Lisa Kudrow are decent as school staff and Byrd gets some funny moments as the gay student wanting a straight stud reputation. But Penn Badgley isn't given enough to do as the nice boy character who sees past the social noise and views Olive for who she really is.

Without Stone's performance and the often delicious and/or funny dialogue with which she works, this easily could have been a run of the mill, and instantly forgettable comedy about high school life. But with nods to the John Hughes dramedies of the 1980s, the film puts a fun and fresh spin on "The Scarlett Letter," rumor mills and what it means to have and/or foster a bad reputation, even if it's entirely faked. Something of an unexpectedly entertaining surprise, "Easy A" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed August 5, 2010 / Posted September 17, 2010

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