Emma Stone has built a career for herself playing the pretty, smarter-than-average love interest in male-driven movies like Zombieland and Superbad, but the time has finally come for her to be a star on her own. Once you get past the faintly ludicrous conceit that Stone was ever an average-looking high school girl who nobody noticed, she handily carries every scene the whip-smart and deviously funny Easy A. Like Alicia Silverstone and Lindsay Lohan before her, Stone takes a teen comedy that was already pretty good on its own and elevates it to something that's almost transcendently fun.
Olive Penderghast is easily the coolest girl at East Ojai High School, even though she's unpopular enough that nobody would notice. She's got a great sense of humor and fashion sense, a rock-solid relationship with her equally awesome and hilarious parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci), and is generous enough to do a pretty major favor for a gay friend constantly beat up by the school bullies. Olive agrees to pretend to have sex with him to boost his reputation, and once word gets around to the other nerds and closet cases at her school, Olive develops her own reputation as a grade-A slut. In a plot contrivance that's not entirely convincing, the formerly happy wallflower Olive takes her skank status as a badge of honor, tormenting the sanctimonious Christians at school and reaping gift cards in exchange for her imaginary flings with the desperate guys.
Though a girl like Olive probably ought to be able to see that this can't end well, it's too much fun to watch her exploits to quibble with things like reality. Working from Bert V. Royal's script that he tweaked significantly, director Will Gluck is playing excellently with third-wave feminism here. Olive uses her sexuality without shame, dressing up in revealing outfits and emblazoning a literal scarlet letter on her chest, but when she confesses that she's actually a virgin, there's no shame in that either. Easy A is refreshingly free of moralizing about both having sex and not having it, in the end concluding "Sleep with who you want to sleep with, just keep it to yourself." It's not the most revolutionary message, sure, but one absent from most teen movies that obsess over sex one way or another.
Even with its rock-solid comedic tone and barrage of perfect one-liners, Easy A's story gets a little too sprawling for its own good. Olive's budding romance with high school nice guy (Penn Badgley) plays out at a nice delicate pace, but subplots about her teacher and his estranged wife (Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow) plus a 22-year-old high school senior (Cam Gigandet) feel subbed in from a worse, less confident movie. It's also bizarre to see former teen comedian Amanda Bynes, with her endless tics and big eyes and strained delivery, share the frame with the relaxed and effortless Stone; Bynes, too, seems transplanted from a lesser teen comedy with none of Easy A's idiosyncratic verve.
It doesn't have as many quotable lines as Clueless, and just misses the whip-fast comedic pace of Mean Girls, but Easy A stands proudly alongside those two teen girl classics, and provides a cinematic snapshot of the current technology-fueled speed of the rumor mill, when something tweeted or texted is automatically true, even without a shred of evidence. Without leaning too heavily on its message and giving ample room for most of its stellar cast to shine, Easy A is zippy and clever and far more original than you thought a high school comedy could be again.