Updating The Scarlet Letter as a teen comedy is an inspired idea but, unfortunately, Easy A isn't a particularly inspired rendition of that idea.
Really, though The Scarlet Letter plays a role in the story - and the main character winds up walking around with a big red 'A' sewed to her chest - this isn't a reworking, reimagining or even a reboot of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic tale of religious hypocrisy.
Instead, this film, directed by Will Gluck from a script by Bert Royal, is a look at the speed of gossip in this digital age - and the way it affects one particular teenage girl. Perhaps they should have called it Gossip Girl, except I guess that title is already spoken for.
The girl in question is Olive (Emma Stone), who is nobody's idea of a high-school queen. She's just a student with her own small circle of friends and no particular claim to fame.
Then she fabricates a story about losing her virginity to a college student, which she tells to her best friend (Ally Michalka). But Olive is overheard telling the lie in the restroom and it's quickly all over school. Suddenly everyone thinks she's a slut - and it totally improves her social status.
Before long, guys she doesn't know are hitting on her, assuming she'll give them an easy tumble. The only one she actually discusses it with is her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd), to whom she confesses that it's all a lie.
But in the universe of IMs and Twitter, perception is reality. To help him hide his sexual orientation, she agrees to let him say they had sex - and, before long, she's offering the same service to every nerd and loser in school. For a price, they can say they had sex with her. Which leads to the rumor that, in fact, she has sex for money.
Things spiral from there. Yet for all the trappings of farce that Gluck builds here, the big laughs are few and far between - and most of them belong to the adult actors in the cast: Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow. They're drop-ins in the teen movie but they make every moment count, swatting their punchlines out of the park like the seasoned veterans they are.
The teen roles, on the other hand, while sometimes vividly imagined, are not particularly well-written. Emma Stone is a bright young actress who knows her way around a one-liner. But the flimsy writing here barely evokes giggles, let along actual laughs. The same is true of the tritely written Christian goody-good, played by Amanda Bynes, who serves as Olive's nemesis.
Easy A, which for some reason screened at the Toronto Film Festival this week, is only fitfully entertaining, usually when the grown-ups step in to show how it's done. Of course, if they'd focused on them from the beginning, it wouldn't be a teen comedy, would it?
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