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HAWTHORNE IN HER SIDE

Emma Stone earns a slutty reputation in Easy A

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"John Hughes did not write my life," laments Olive Penderghast, a high school student longing to be Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles rather than the scandalous harlot of her California school in Easy A. The sentiment, part of Olive's webcast, pretty much sums up this very meta movie, which winks at film conventions including Hughes' '80s teen wet dreams and a freely adapted 1995 version of The Scarlet Letter starring Demi Moore, who spoke with an inexplicable English accent.

Even Olive's English teacher (Thomas Haden Church), opening a discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel with an improvised rap, mocks himself for being a hip English teacher, "just like in every bad movie you've ever seen."

In Bert Royal's irony-laden script, clever, straitlaced Olive acquires her "filthy skank" reputation by accident. She invents an imaginary boyfriend and fake-confesses to her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) that she lost her virginity to him. It's overheard by the school's Jesus-freak-in-chief, Marianne (Amanda Bynes), and soon rumors of Olive's loose ways spread like a viral video.

Olive cements her bad-girl reputation by agreeing to let her friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) — a "Kinsey 6 homosexual," says Olive — pretend he had sex with her so he can dodge the daily beatings he's getting for being gay. Unwilling to do anything half-assed, Olive stages a fake raucous bedroom grunt-fest meant to be overheard by a house party of slavering classmates.

Soon, Olive is being approached by all manner of nerds, fat boys, and outcasts who want help acquiring a studly reputation. They begin offering her gift cards (one hapless kid submits a measly coupon for Bed Bath & Beyond) in return for the status-enhancing right to brag about having sex with her.

Suddenly awash in gifts and condemnation (the religious kids pray for her and mount a picket line), virginal Olive decides to embrace her inner Hester Prynne. In real life, high school girls kill themselves over such scorn; in Easy A, Olive cuts up her conservative wardrobe and starts wearing sexy improvised bustiers, each adorned with a huge red letter A.

These rather outlandish plot machinations are made tolerable by the witty writing and a winning performance by 22-year-old Stone, whose sultry voice and oversized eyes make her an eminently appealing heroine. The supporting cast is great too: Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's tolerant, jokey parents, Malcolm McDowell as the beleaguered school principal, and Lisa Kudrow as the guidance counselor who's a bit of a scarlet woman herself.

Easy A is a movie best appreciated for its texture rather than its plot. But like most comedies, it all comes down to the story. Olive eventually realizes she would really rather be romanced by someone like John Cusack in Say Anything and sets her sights on her girlhood crush (Penn Badgely), who stays nobly above the gossipy fray. She also muses that life should be more like the musical number that climaxed Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and so Easy A obliges, providing Olive with a steamy showstopper that gets her escorted off the gym floor. And to underscore how much the world has changed since John Hughes' day, Olive's big dance number also happens to be a commercial for her webcast.

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