Emma Stone shines in her breakthrough role in Easy A, a breezy, delightful story of a well-meaning high schooler, untangling an accidental web of lies she created
Warm and witty Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is a rare teenager — comfortable in her skin, bit too much into literature and altogether as well adjusted as can be expected at that age. She is not really an introvert but doesn’t mind staying lost in the crowd that much.
Preferring a quiet life, when her loud and boisterous friend Rhiannon invites Olive to spend the weekend with her eccentric hippie family, Olive makes an excuse of having a date. She spends the whole weekend at home doing extremely normal, even boring things.
And so the next Monday when grilled by Rhiannon about what she did, she is cagey. Olive is unable to come up with a convincing answer to quell Rhiannon’s curiosity.
Eventually in the face of relentless badgering by Rhiannon, who continues to draw conjectures that the reasons for her reluctance to share details is because she has done something scandalous, Olive falsely admits to having slept with a college boy; a college guy who in reality doesn’t exist. When Rhiannon presses for more information, Olive caught up in the moment, gets creative and imaginative. She makes up a story. Unfortunately, her classmate Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes), a stout believer in Christian values, overhears the whole thing and despite Olive’s denial, spreads the lie.
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Thus a seemingly harmless lie spreads like wildfire. Olive’s reputation overnight turns from a nobody, to one of a promiscuous teenager. She now finds herself at the centre of a high school gossip storm.
While she confides in a few people about why she had lied, not everyone believes her. In fact, some of her friends and classmates start approaching her to create fabricated versions of their imaginary dalliances for different reasons like enhancing their standing in the high school hierarchy.
Being kind-hearted and not really realising how much of snowball effect a small lie can create, Olive obliges them. But soon the lies turn inside out and start to hurt her in damaging ways. Only a few people don’t go by the rumours floating about her and believe her when she professes that they are all lies told with good intentions. This includes her recently renewed love interest Todd (Penn Badgley) who has known her since they were kids, and knows that Olive would help people without thinking twice, including lie for them.
His simple belief, a growing realization that there are good-hearted people around and an increasing discomfort with this unforeseen reputation of a wayward teen that she was garnering,makes Olive want to put an end to the lies about her once and for all.
So she approaches everyone she has helped to tell the truth, but they are either unavailable or unwilling. So as a final, desperate measure she opts for a live webcast — a tell it all.
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This is the frame in which the film is set; Olive narrating into a webcam, and the scenes of the past playing before the audience.
The narrative is the same as a teen comedy but instead of a coming-of-age story or an all-out romance, this film takes up a simple premise — that an innocent lie when unchecked can create a tangled mess, and works around this idea beautifully.
Thus while staying true to the teen drama genre, it does not feel clichéd.
So when at the beginning of her narration, Olive says that this is not one of those stories, i.e. a story of a lonely teenager agonizing over her identity, she is speaking the truth.
It is light-hearted and engaging. Many of the dialogues are long-winded yet sharp and amusing, speaking something about the freshness of the storytelling.
Olive’s character, in particular, has a lot of depth. She is funny without being insensitive, smart without being overbearing.
Easy A is a decisive Emma Stone declaration that she has arrived. She is charming, sassy and arresting. She is extremely convincing as a sweet girl who sets into motion an unanticipated series of events by telling a single lie. Her portrayal of Olive is both relatable and entertaining.
An important theme running through the film that gives it unique shades is the mirroring of literature and the things happening in the lives of the characters, especially the protagonist Olive. So while these lies are getting out of hand, her class is reading Nathaniel Hawthrone’s A Scarlett Letter.
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The basic premise of this American classic is a woman who has an affair but is unjustly and solely branded as an adulterer. Olive’s wit is drawn from her knowledge of this and other novels as well as classic cult teen films, whose finer points have been cleverly woven in with whatever is happening on the screen.
Another bright and quirky aspect of the story is Olive’s interactions with her parents.
Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson perfectly play the unconventional, friendly, parents to Olive and her younger brother, who impart their own style of original wisdom to their kids. They check on her but don’t intrude. They play a fine balance between loving their kids and giving them space; loving them without judging.
The underplayed romance between Olive and Todd lingers sweetly within the overall plot. It never overpowers Olive’s narration and the central dilemma of the film. That a lie, however, well-meant might just turn on itself and eventually do more harm than good.
Emma Stone carried the film with a grace and aplomb beyond her experience, and delivered an identifiable and appealing performance. Easy A is a simple, enjoyable movie that is worth a repeat watch every now and then for the simple way it lifts your spirits, and for the sheer fun a well made teen drama can be!
Watch Easy A on Netflix
By Aastha Madhur
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