The ghost of John Hughes smiles upon "Easy A," a film that freely and giddily borrows from and pays tribute to Hughes' famous Holy Trinity of '80s teen angst comedies.
Like those films —"Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" —"Easy A" taps into teen insecurities, teen posing, the maddening melodrama of teen life. And it takes that angst seriously — serious with a bemused, arched eyebrow.
Emma Stone ("Paper Man") is our heroine, Olive, an Ojai, Calif., teen who suffers that curse of high schoolers — anonymity. She's got a busty, bombshell best friend, Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka). And she's got a boy she's had a crush on since eighth grade (Penn Badgley), a guy who dresses up as the school mascot.
What Olive needs is "an identifier," Rhiannon declares. But what Olive settles on throws her whole world for a loop. She invents a boyfriend, invents a night of hot sex. And in the Twitter and text universe of high school, word travels faster than ever. As the school's resident holy roller Marianne (Amanda Bynes) fumes, Olive's a "trollop."
"The rumors of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated," Olive protests, in private. But guys with image issues call on her, and finding out that her lover was fake persuades them to talk her — or bribe her — into pretending she hooked up with them. Thus, the girl studying "The Scarlet Letter" in class becomes the only one to "get" what Mr. Griffith, her teacher (Thomas Haden Church, droll as ever), is talking about. She dons bustiers and short-shorter-shortest shorts and wears, with pride, a scarlet "A." Olive finally has a reputation, and it's a bad one.
The dialogue is sharp and funny, the language often high school coarse as Olive discovers the consequences of the little lies that have "put me on the map." Her parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) are far hipper than the out-of-touch adults of John Hughes films. Olive can talk to them because their favorite expression is "no judgment." Will they ground her?
"I wouldn't know how to be grounded any more than you'd know how to ground."
Screenwriter Bert V. Royal, an alumnus of Dave Chapelle's TV show, peppers us with snark and wit and sarcasm, mixed in with tiny truths —"Let's not mistake popularity for infamy."
One thing he and director Will Gluck stumble over is the whole narration by webcast thing — Olive sitting at her PC, telling this story to the World Wide Web.
But they've cast and cut "Easy A" to be the sassy modern equivalent of those much-loved Hughes films of yore. Everybody in this scores laughs, from the tart-tongued kids to the parents, teacher, guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow, perfect) and zero-tolerance school principal (Malcolm McDowell).
Maybe there's a third-act sag as "Easy A" shifts into full consequences mode. But it's delightful to see a movie that listens to kids the way Hughes did and that shares the same life lessons Hughes taught. In the end, it's still only high school. You'll get over it.