A lot of critics are calling Emma Stone the new Lindsay Lohan and I totally get that. Like Lohan, she’s a pretty, husky-voiced redhead with serious acting chops and a great sense of comic timing. But while Lohan always had a laid back quality to her work (and allow me to formally apologize for speaking of Lohan's acting career in the past tense—come back soon, Linds!), Stone is positively antic. She’s a motormouthed ingénue with a Borscht-Belt-like tendency to make hurried sarcastic asides—and she’s able to play both the sexy siren (as she did in Superbad and Zombieland) or the dweeby outcast (as she did in House Bunny and The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.) What’s more, she’s fearless as an actress—never afraid to look foolish (braces and acid washed jeans anyone?) or push the joke too far. She’s her own very unique force of nature. Frankly, the Lohan comparisons are just lazy.
Easy A is the first film that allows Stone to show us all that she’s got. She plays Olive Penderghast, a good kid who gets along almost too well with her neo-hippie parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson). When she makes the classic teenage mistake—lying to her nosy best friend about losing her virginity—the high-school information-superhighway kicks in and suddenly, everyone knows. This is exacerbated when Olive does a favor for the tormented gay boy in school, pretending to have sex with him to get the jocks off his back. Now she’s branded the school tramp. But instead of trying to clear her name, she embraces her new role, providing a similar pseudo de-virginizing service for many of the schools outcasts (“I fake rocked your world!” she tells one) and cheekily sporting a scarlet-letter A on her chest (they’re conveniently reading The Scarlet Letter in English class).
In other words, we get to see Stone as the shy outcast, the rebel, the sex pot (in her Hester Prynne mode, she rocks what her father calls “upscale hooker” attire), the teen queen in pink fuzzy slippers (Olive narrates much of her story from web cam in her bedroom), and the traditional romantic lead (she has a real love interest, played by Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley.)
Much of Easy A plays as intended—it’s lively and funny and hip, in the same mode as Clueless and, yes, Lohan’s Mean Girls. But not everything works. Sometimes the irony is so thick, it becomes downright inscrutable. When we first meet Olive’s English teacher (Thomas Haden-Church), he engages in a rapid-fire exchange with her that is supposed to show how smart and with-it he is. But until Olive’s voiceover cites him as her favorite teacher, I thought he was being mocked as the grown-up who tries too hard to be “down” with the kids. Some of the laissez-faire-style parenting by Clarkson and Tucci is equally hard to gauge—are we supposed to applaud their extreme indifference to their daughter’s personal meltdown? Worse still, Easy A falls into that trap of making fun of the Christian right group at school, led by, yes, a perky minister’s daughter (Amanda Bynes). Yawn. We’ve seen the teen-God-squad-as-villain before.
Quibbles aside, Easy A is mostly a hoot. After the enormous success of Juno, I was expecting to see more films that starred self-assured brainy girls like Juno (and Olive). We haven’t. To that end, I’m optimistic that Easy A will serve two noble purposes: It will remind Hollywood that smart teenage girls go to the movies, too (!), and it will finally allow Stone to take the spotlight on her own.