Emma Stone has that certain something ensuring she'll be a big star. Even the screen-teen mechanics of Easy A can't hide it. She's like Lindsay Lohan before the rap sheet — a fair comparison given Stone's striking red hair and a plot owing a lot to Mean Girls.
Yet Easy A isn't merely another teen movie, just as Stone isn't merely another teen twink. Screenwriter Bert V. Royal takes the oldest adolescence hook in the book — losing one's virginity— and turns it inside out, making chastity something to cherish even while high school students (and teachers) are either "doing it" or pretending they are.
Olive Penderghast (Stone) is a wallflower virgin who is unintentionally branded as "easy" after her best friend goads her into describing a summer fling with a college student that never happened. The rumor spreads faster than the speed of tweets, and Olive suddenly finds herself very much in demand for the wrong reason.
One classmate makes a desperate offer: Brandon (Dan Byrd) is gay and bullied for it, so he begs Olive to pose as his lusty new girlfriend so he'll appear heterosexual, paying her for the effort with gift cards to her favorite stores. Word of the scam spreads along the nerd hotline and soon every loser in school is handing over valuable plastic in exchange for Olive's bogus attention.
Olive should come across as a pitiful opportunist, but not the vivacious way Stone plays her, or the way Royal reflects her situation through others. She deserves more popularity than superficial Jesus freak Marianne (Amanda Bynes), and longtime crush Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgley) would love her just as she is if she would wise up. For once, a teen comedy features parents as something more than bumbling caricatures, with Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson giving amusing turns as neo-hippies genuinely interested in their child. Imagine that.
Royal sprinkles his screenplay with snappy cultural references that aren't exactly pop; it's one thing to be inspired by Shakespeare like 10 Things I Hate About You, and entirely another to mine laughs from Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dr. Kinsey and Huckleberry Finn. The wit constantly sneaks up on you, mostly filtered through Stone's casual sarcasm and wry observations.
Director Will Gluck (Fired Up!) frames the jokes with a fresh-smelling teen spirit that usually deserves its self-conscious comparisons to John Hughes flicks of the 1980s. Gluck isn't bashful about catering to the current craze for Reagan-era nostalgia with peppy covers of Simple Minds and Blondie hits and a final scene cleverly melding several of Hughes' iconic images. Like much of Easy A, it has all been done before, but not quite like this.
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.