Distributed by: Screen Gems
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Funny how you rent a movie and discover that you have just read the novel the movie was inspired by. I had just completed reading The Scarlet Letter, a dramatic novel based in the 17th Century a week ago. Then, this weekend, I rented Easy A, a comedy set in present times but with a familiar plot. No, this was not a film about a women who has committed adultery and is punished for her sins by the town. However, there are quite a few similarities to be found between the two works.
Emma Stone is Olive Penderghast, a high school student who initially gets herself into trouble by lying to her friend (Alyson Michalka). To get out of going on a camping trip with her friend’s family, she pretends to have been on a date with a guy from college. That spirals into a rumor and, before Olive knows it, she has lost her virginity to this fictitious person. After responding inappropriately to a snide comment by Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes), a member of the school’s church group, Olive finds herself in detention with Brandon (Dan Byrd). Brandon is a homosexual in detention for defending himself from local bullies.
Olive admits the truth to Brandon and discusses her newfound popularity that has emanated from a rumor. Brandon devises a plan in which the two will pretend to have slept together at a party being thrown by the most popular girl in school, thereby getting the bullies off of Brandon’s back by making them believe he is straight and increasing Olive‘s popularity. Although the plan works, it has serious repercussions for Olive. Thanks to the harassment of the school’s church group and her best friend and inspired by The Scarlet Letter, a novel she has been assigned in English class, Olive decides to embrace her rumored persona completely. She clears her closet and makes way for a provocative wardrobe and wears a scarlet “A”.
Unfortunately, this leads to offers from other high school duds who wish to boost their reputations by “sleeping” with Olive. In exchange for gift cards and other payments, Olive agrees to further their reputations by allowing them to pretend to have had relations with her. Things eventually get entirely out of hand and Olive finds herself the scourge of her high school. Can she straighten things out by telling the truth or is it far too late for that?
In Easy A, we get to see the story from a couple of different points of view. There’s Olive and what she is going though of course, but we also see how others are perceiving her based on rumors and innuendo. We also see how Olive is perceived by non-judgmental people like her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and Todd (Penn Badgely), the guy Olive has had a crush on since she was a kid.
I, for one, loved the banter between Olive and her parents and found it to be incredibly refreshing. Although a tad quirky, the characters of Dill and Rosemary Penderghast are truly non-judgmental. Their whole lives have been lived around the idea that people’s outward differences do not reflect who they are inside. I wish everyone in the world had such an attitude. I also wish I knew what the writer was thinking when naming the Penderghast family characters Dill, Rosemary, Olive and Chip.
So, you ask, where are the similarities between The Scarlet Letter and Easy A. Well, in The Scarlet Letter, the sin is not just the adultery, but the secret Hester Pryn is hiding - the name of the father of her child. The torment that her co-conspirator feels comes from the lies he has had to tell to solidify his innocence in the matter. Hester Pryn is made to feel like a pariah and is treated as such, cast aside by everyone in the town and forced to wear the scarlet letter as a reminder to all of her shame. In Easy A, Olive Penderghast suffers a similar fate. Based upon one lie and the rumor it causes, Olive eventually becomes an outcast at her school, spurned by her peers. She wears the scarlet letter at first as a badge of honor, but it becomes a burden she cannot bear.
Overall, Easy A is a fun film to watch, despite the teenybopper setting. The cast all play off each other well and the storyline is - when I think back to my high school days and the rumors that flew back then - quite believable. The morals of the film - staying true to one’s self, not caring what others think about you and that no one has the right to judge another person and their actions - are all lessons we should live by. I had a great many laughs during this film and enjoyed the parallels to The Scarlet Letter. Easy A is an intelligently written film that doesn’t force its lessons down your throat, but eases them in through a series of laughter and I’m extremely happy I rented this film.