Emma Stone is an invisible high schooler at East Ojai High, somewhere in sunny California. She’s not really invisible, she just feels that way because she’s in high school, and is walking that tightrope between conformity and individuality that dominates all of our teenage years. She has a best friend (Amanda Bynes) and a crush on a boy (Penn Badgley) who knows who she is, and is just biding his time. She has a favorite teacher (Thomas Haden Church, in a wonderful deadpan performance) who knows she’s the only one who’s done the assigned reading. That’s hardly invisibility. Some of us might wish for so much anonymity at ages 14-17.
She’s a pretty good liar, too. After spending most of a long weekend dancing to a singing greeting card, and then realizing just how lame that is, she tells her best friend a steamy story about a community college boy and their weekend of passion. But Stone hasn’t watched enough Ally McBeal; she tells this story in the girl’s bathroom, but forgets to check the stalls for listeners. Pretty soon the whole school knows about her fake tryst. Some of them know more about it than she does.
Stone is smart enough to understand the futility of fighting rumors, especially rumors about sex, so instead, she runs with it. She stages drunken party sex with a gay friend to get the bullies off his case. And surprisingly, the two rumors run with equal speed amongst different social castes: the nerds and losers learn about her willingness to fake sexual encounters to boost their credibility, and the popular kids hear about her sexual exploits with losers and nerds. She starts wearing a bodice with a red “A” stitched into it, a reference to one of the most unbearable books ever assigned in high school. (By the way, she didn’t actually do the assigned reading – she just watched the good version of the movie, not the terrible Demi Moore version.)
Enter the Righteousness Brigade, a group of hyper-religious high schoolers, led by Amanda Bynes, who only read the Bible enough to back up their own prejudices, and only bow their heads to pray judgment down on harlots like Stone. “Easy A” would be a better movie with a bigger heart if they weren’t so cartoonishly bad; I’ve been around plenty of unbearably self-righteous religious types, and none are quite so two-dimensional as these. But they serve as a suitable foil for Stone, picketing in the parking lot for her expulsion (does anyone actually do this? Do principals even notice or care?) and casting plenty of venom and judgment her way.
Because “Easy A” is a snappy sex comedy, we, the wise audience, don’t really pay attention to all the ways its plot is silly or absurd, or how many ways it could go horribly wrong in a second for Stone, and I won’t bother wasting them here. It’ not that we don’t notice its flaws, it’s that we’re not inclined to dwell on them, because there are plenty of more enjoyable things going on at the same time. (A good parallel might be Ms. Stone’s looks: she’s hardly a classic beauty, but she has such charm and wit that you’re not really going to focus on her flaws.) And it works as a comedy because it riffs on a couple of truths about high school. First, it’s about that tightrope between invisibility and notoriety: you want people to know who you are, but you definitely don’t want too many people to know too much about you. The second truth, that us adults are all happy to remember, and relieved to discover is still true: most high schoolers (the normal, well-adjusted ones, anyway) spend an awful amount of time wondering about sex: their peers’ sex lives, how they measure up, what it’s actually like, etc. But few of them are actually having sex, and even fewer are openly talking about it. The best teen sex comedies (like those of John Hughes and the best of AdamHerz) get this, and “Easy A” belongs in their company.