NEW YORK –– Despite its title, director Will Gluck’s satire of high school life, “Easy A” (Screen Gems), confronts viewers with a tangled thicket of positive and misguided values that is anything but easy to negotiate.
And, in the end, worthwhile messages about the dangers of judging from appearances and the temptation to pigeonhole or belittle others are choked off, in Bert V. Royal’s often clever script, by the implication that all Christians are hypocrites and that any consensual form of bedroom behavior is acceptable as long as it is honestly acknowledged.
Emma Stone stars as Olive, a clean-cut but lost-in-the-crowd teen living in ever sunny yet – here, at least – spiritually sterile Southern California. Though Olive shares a happy home life with her hip, understanding parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson), her dreams of being noticed by her peers, romantically or otherwise, are going nowhere.
Until, that is, she tells her best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), an entirely fabricated story about losing her virginity to a fictional community college student. Self-righteous born-again Christian Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhears the lie and begins spreading exaggerated gossip about Olive’s sexual exploits, calumny that rapidly snowballs out of control.
In a modern twist on the fate of Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter” – Olive is reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel of guilt and ostracism for English class – the falsely accused Olive suddenly becomes both a celebrity and an outcast.
Her desire to resolve the whole misunderstanding is forestalled, though, when Brandon (Dan Byrd), another friend who suffers constant persecution by bullies for being gay, appeals to her to stage a fake encounter with him that will establish him as straight. Soon a succession of social outsiders are bargaining with Olive for the right to claim that they have had their way with her, though nothing of the kind ever actually happens.
Understandably confused by her situation, Olive seeks guidance in the confessional of the local Catholic church only to discover, after pouring her heart out, that there is no priest on the other side of the screen.
This is in keeping with the steadily cynical view of faith that pervades the story, typified by the mindless or malicious personalities of Marianne and her evangelical cohorts who – acting very much in the mold of Hawthorne’s Puritans – launch a campaign to have Olive expelled.
As Olive begins to emerge from the avalanche of misperceptions that have buried her true identity, various incidents make it clear that, while lying about sex is wrong, for the most part, any freely chosen sexual action – adultery, thankfully, excepted – is admissible.
The film contains a negative portrayal of Christianity, including Catholicism, a benign view of premarital sex and homosexuality, implied drug use, brief partial nudity, a venereal disease theme, some sexual humor, at least 10 uses of profanity and, much crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online.