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The problem with little lies is that they grow into big lies. More elaborate lies. Soon, the web of deception becomes so dense and sticky there's no exit.
That's the lesson Olive learns in Easy A.
When we meet her, Olive hardly seems a candidate for weaving such a web. Floating around the periphery of Ojai North High School's social scene, the quiet, conscientious student has never done much—good or bad—to merit her peers' attention. Until, that is, a spontaneous lie spins out of control.
It happens when best bud Rhiannon (Rhi for short) asks Olive what she did over the weekend. Embarrassed that she did nothing, Olive tells a tale about meeting a college guy. When brassy, bossy, busty Rhi asks if they had sex, Olive replies, Of course not.
But Rhi won't take no for an answer. And so Olive plays along, spinning yet more lurid threads as she makes up a sexual encounter that never happened.
End of story? Hardly.
Lurking in a bathroom stall near the two girls is the school's self-appointed, self-righteous crusader for Christ and purity: Marianne. Soon, everyone in the school knows that Olive, in Marianne's words, is a "whore." Suddenly the invisible and mousy girl is caught under a cascading mountain of innuendo not unlike what Hester Prynne faced in The Scarlet Letter (which Olive is reading in Mr. Griffith's English class).
Olive is still pondering her unlikely infamy when a friend named Brandon, who's frequently bullied for being gay, asks for a favor: Would Olive say she had sex with him so everyone will believe he's straight and quit tormenting him? He'll even throw in a gift card as thanks. Olive agrees—and then pushes the plot a big step further. People will only believe it, she says, if they "do the deed" at a party.
And so they do.
Olive's rep as the school "slut" is fortified even more when Brandon's outcast friends (who know the truth) begin asking for similar faux sexual favors. Just like that, Olive becomes the school's "virtual" prostitute. All the while, Marianne and her circle of viciously mean Christian friends amp up the nastiness.
Olive, though, kind of enjoys the attention … until a classmate who isn't privy to the truth takes her out for dinner, hands her a $200 gift card and expects her to perform like the prostitute she's been pretending to be.
Easy A illustrates how lies take on a life of their own. Olive eventually apologizes to Rhi for lying to her and tries to explain how the whole fiasco flared up in a lengthy webcast to her classmates.
Olive has a good relationship with her parents, Dill and Rosemary. Though most of their attitudes toward sexuality are painfully lenient, Olive's parents love her and want her to make the best decisions she can.
Another important character is Todd, Olive's eventual love interest. He suspects that all the gossip about Olive is untrue. He pursues Olive because he's genuinely interested in her, not because he wants sexual favors (real or fictional) from her.
Mr. Griffith is a generally conscientious teacher who cares about his students' choices and well-being.
Marianne is the ringleader of an obnoxious posse of mean Christians. "Jesus calls us to love everyone," she intones piously. "Even the whores and homosexuals." They label Olive a "whore" and a "slut," tell her she's going to hell and even stage a "protest," wielding vicious signs. (One is emblazoned with "Jezebel"). When they meet each morning at school to pray and sing, those activities are depicted in a way that invites mockery and derision from fellow students—and moviegoers. "We need to pray for [Olive]," Marianne suggests to the group. "But we also need to get her the h‑‑‑ out of here."
Marianne (successfully) spearheads a movement to get the school's mascot changed from a blue devil to a woodchuck. (The old mascot is said to promote Satan worship). Rhiannon calls Marianne "Sister Christian" and says that she's a part of the "cross your heart" club. Another character dubs her a "stuck-up Jesus freak." But Rhi eventually grows so sick of Olive's deceptive antics that she joins the Christians, holding up a sign that says "Exodus 20:14" ("You shall not commit adultery"). Olive responds, "Never underestimate the power of extremism."
Much of the movie turns on Marianne's judgmental treatment of Olive. For a brief moment, though, Olive and Marianne set aside their differences. Marianne lets her guard down, and Olive can see that the girl is genuinely confused and hurt by an impending divorce in her congregation.
So despite the wicked treatment she receives, Olive decides she wants to know what the Bible says about sex and salvation. She buys one—only to conclude that it's too difficult to interpret. She goes to a Catholic church to confess her lies—only to find that there wasn't a priest sitting on the other side of the confessional. Then she searches out another church and begins to talk to a pastor—only to learn that he's Marianne's father.
Olive's staged sex act with Brandon at the party involves the couple parading to a bedroom, her removing (under her very short skirt) her panties and covering the keyhole with them, followed by lots of feigned sexual noises and some feigned sexual "spanking" as dozens of other students listen outside. Jokes follow about Brandon's sexual proclivities and Olive's intimates. His tormentors cheer.
Olive's parents wonder why she's spending time alone with someone who's so obviously gay. "No judgment," they say. They're just curious. By the end, Brandon is unabashedly "out," and we see him in bed with another guy cuddling with him.
The "no judgment" theme emanating from Olive's parents continues when it comes to her increasingly risqué outfits. She begins wearing scanty tops with a large red "A" attached, and her mom says, "No judgment, but you kind of look like a stripper." Dad mollifies, "A high-end stripper, for governors or athletes." Mom later confesses to Olive that she had a bad reputation too, due to the fact that she actually did sleep with lots of people ("mostly boys") because she had low self-esteem. Mom also jokes about and demonstrates how she was very flexible when it came to sex and makes suggestive comments about her current sex life with Olive's father. Dad mentions that he was "gay once, for a while."
Rhiannon's shirts expose lots of cleavage. We see Olive's bare shoulders as she showers. A pool party pictures many teens in bikinis; we hear that the student who lives there gets to have said parties every time he catches his parents having sex in the pool. At a bizarre dinner with Rhi's parents, they're both apparently nude. Partial breast nudity gets screen time when Rhi's mom inadvertently thrusts her chest into Olive's face.
Verbal references to sex include discussions about virginity, orgasms, masturbation, odor during intercourse, contraceptives, a rumor about group sex in a hot tub and the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs. Rhi calls Olive a "hot little sex monkey" and uses anatomical slang to berate her. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn gets dragged through the 21st-century mud with multiple insinuations about Tom and Huck's sexual attraction for each other.
Marianne prays that God would keep those in her charge "pure and chaste" until marriage. Olive tries to confess her deception to the guidance counselor, Mrs. Griffith. But the woman won't listen and just hands Olive condoms. Eventually, we learn that Mrs. Griffith has been having an affair with Marianne's boyfriend, who's gotten chlamydia as a result. We hear about the disease's symptoms in graphic detail.
Olive performs a burlesque dance routine at a high school assembly. She suggestively tells her classmates to watch an upcoming webcast, stating that they'll get to see her and Todd have sex. Instead they hear Olive's confessional describing everything that's been (not) happening in her alleged sexual relationships. One student responds disgustedly, "I thought she was going to take her clothes off." The pastor, Marianne's dad, feels the same way.
Olive's encounter with the guy who wants to pay her for real sex ends with her fighting him off as he tries to grope and kiss her.
To make Brandon's fake-sex groans more "authentic," Olive hits him in the stomach.
Crude or Profane Language
About 75 profanities, including what sounds like an indistinct f-word, 20 s-words, a dozen uses of "b‑‑ch" and 20 misuses of God's name. (Nine or 10 times God's name is paired with "d‑‑n.") Other vulgarities include "a‑‑hole," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑." We hear crass and obscene slang terms for parts of the male and female anatomy.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A high school party shows lots of people carrying red cups and implies they're drinking alcohol. Olive's parents drink wine with meals.
Olive's dinner with Rhi's family also involves her father offering Olive a bong to take a hit on. (She declines.) Mr. Griffith grabs cigarettes from students and breaks them. Principal Gibbons says he tries to keep "girls off the pole and boys off the pipe." Olive jokes about avoiding a future in which she "spirals down into booze and pills to numb the loneliness."
Other Negative Elements
Mr. Griffith sends Olive to detention for calling one of the Christians a nasty name. But he (and her father, too) makes sure to let her know that he thinks the name is right on the mark. For her part, Olive might learn a lesson or two about the downside of lying, but she never really gets it. She emphatically concludes that it's still better to lie if the outcome is happier than the result of telling the truth.
About halfway through Easy A, Olive laments that the guys in her life aren't like the heroes of John Hughes' now iconic '80s flicks. It's a telling moment, because this film aspires to the same sort of feel-good vibe that Hughes' films (Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) usually generate. Olive, for all her flaws, is plenty likeable. And director Will Gluck succeeds in capturing universally relatable moments of longing for acceptance and feeling like an outsider, as well as the snowballing dangers of deception. Those are decidedly Hughesian themes.
They're just executed in a sleazier way.
Hughes' movies had their fair share of sexual innuendo. But even when you factor in The Breakfast Club, one of his rare R-rated projects, Easy A still offers something of a mile marker for where teen comedies have come since his heyday 25 years ago. Sex and romance drove his plots back then, too, but his protagonists weren't staking their high school "careers" on the idea that they're breezily turning tricks for money, hinting at live-sex broadcasts or teaching others how to make realistic sex sounds as a mob of "friends" voyeuristically perch outside the door.
That was Porky's territory, not mainstream teen comedy territory.
So what are we to think about the shift all these sexual shenanigans signals? The movie's response toward that question, as well as its stance toward homosexuality, is best summed up by Olive's parents: "No judgment." And in case we miss that message, Olive recaps it at the end. As disappointed high schoolers whine about not getting to see her have sex, she says it doesn't matter whether she and Todd have sex in five minutes, six months or on their wedding night. In fact, she says, it's "nobody's g‑‑d‑‑ned business" when they have sex.
That profane bluntness both reflects and rams home our culture's understanding about sexual intimacy: It's personal. It's private. And it's not something anyone else has the right to address … especially, it would seem, Christians. Easy A's take on—and takedown of—Christians is as shallow as it is maddeningly predictable. Olive's permissive parents pound the pulpit—"No judgment!"—while the caricatured believers who suggest that sex might need boundaries and result in significant consequences are portrayed as either hysterical or hypocritical or both.
Perhaps what saddens me most about this film is that when Olive goes looking for honest, Christian answers about sex, she can't find any. And so she settles for our culture's dangerously self-righteous take on this immensely important subject: It's my business and nobody else's.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast; Amanda Bynes as Marianne; Aly Michalka as Rhiannon; Penn Badgely as Todd; Dan Byrd as Brandon; Thomas Haden Church as Mr. Griffith; Lisa Kudrow as Mrs. Griffith; Cam Gigandet as Micah; Patricia Clarkson as Rosemary Penderghast; Stanley Tucci as Dill Penderghast; Malcolm McDowell as Principal Gibbons; Fred Armisen as Pastor
September 17, 2010
December 21, 2010