When it comes to realism in movies, there are three categories: movies that work because they are ultra-realistic. The French Connection, a brilliant and brutal police procedural, is an excellent example of this, as is Only Angels Have Wings, still the greatest movie of all time about pilots and aviation, ever since its release in 1939. The second category, and the most common, is the film that works in spite of its inaccuracies, JFK being the most flagrant example of this ilk. And finally, there's the film that works because of its inaccuracies. This is the hardest film of all to pull off; it's a 5,000-ton soufflé to be handled lightly and gently lest it fall and is thus destroyed. Easy A is a wonderful example of the latter category done right.
For those of you who haven't seen Easy A, here's a brief synopsis: Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is an average southern California teenager, emphasis on average. She's not a popular girl, but not one of those who gets dunked in the toilet, either; just one of those nameless masses that one finds in every school. This changes when, to get out of a certain situation, she concocts a lie about losing her virginity. This lie quickly spirals out of control, as lies do, until Olive has gone from a nothing to the school pariah. Olive, a resourceful girl, gets out of the situation in a brilliant, flashy, fun way, fitting to her character.
Easy A must have been an amazingly hard idea to sell in an industry that lives and dies by the thirty-second pitch. The pitch, which I imagine went something like "The Scarlet Letter in high school," makes the film sound like nothing but another throw-away, gross, brainless high school comedy. The film's whole plot is built on a false concept, that having sex in high school makes you unpopular.
There's absolutely no reason that Easy A should work. But it does. Why? For a few reasons.
A huge reason is the script, written by Bert V. Royal (his first screenplay). It's extremely well-structured, with a very clear beginning, middle and end. It gets to its story quickly and follows it through seamlessly to its natural conclusion. Every scene has a purpose and achieves it brilliantly. The script is full of snappy, intelligent, funny dialogue, coming from well-rounded, interesting (if not always entirely realistic) characters. Royal uses voiceovers with a brilliance that hasn't been seen since Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. This film's main strength lies in its screenplay, but as I said, but without some help, this film would still be another forgettable high school sex comedy.
Another thing that helps this film is that it makes no bones about what kind of film it is. It doesn't ever pretend to be a realistic picture of high school, or life in general. The film makes its reference point as clear as day about halfway through the film when Olive talks about how she wishes her life were an '80s comedy, citing the greatest moments from some of the best films of the genre. Along with setting up the ending, it shows us what kind of world we're in: the John Hughes world of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. With this as our context, it suddenly becomes easier to swallow some of the film's more unrealistic aspects (for instance, how is an intelligent, self-confident, funny, pretty girl like Olive not popular?). The film does with Hughes films what Sergio Leone did with the Western: take all the clichés and, through good writing and stylish filmmaking, elevate them into art. As the director, Will Gluck, says on the DVD commentary, "If people want true-to-life, they'll stay home and eat crackers."
Emma Stone is who really saves this movie, though. In a film like this, everything rides on how much we like the main character, and Ms. Stone picks up the movie on her shoulders in the first scene and carries us through 'till the end. She attacks the part with gusto, squeezing every bit of humor and drama out of each scene, doing such a great job that she achieves the "ultimate dream" for any actor: making us forget we're watching acting and thinking we're watching a real person go through their life (this is only the second time in recent years I've really seen this; the other time is with Jeff Bridges in True Grit). Ms. Stone's talent had shone in films before, but not like this. This is how an actor becomes a star.
Easy A is like a real-life Rocky story; the film that shouldn't work or make it in any way, shape or form, but defies the odds and surprises the world. Maybe it's not better than any of the movies that it emulates, but it's easily as good as the best of 'em. Definitely one of the greats.