What makes a teen film iconic? I've been lucky enough to look back on such classics as '10 Things I Hate About You', 'Cruel Intentions' and 'Mean Girls' on their milestone anniversaries, and the answer changes. It could be a banging soundtrack, a script full of one-liners, a talented cast firing on all cylinders, a clever adaptation of classic literature, or even a star-making turn for a newcomer lead. As incredible as these films are, however, none have shaped me into the person I am today quite like 'Easy A', a teen comedy classic which takes all of these icon-making qualities and packs them into 92 perfect minutes.
If you somehow haven't seen 'Easy A' and are unsure what it's about, you might wonder how the film could cause such a reaction. Witty but relatively unpopular high schooler Olive (Emma Stone, 'Zombieland: Double Tap') finds herself in hot water after a white lie to get out of camping with her best friend Rhiannon (singer/actress Aly Michalka, 'The Lears') results in the whole school incorrectly believing Olive has lost her virginity while on a date with a college student (in reality, Olive bummed around the house all weekend). Narrated over webcam, Olive recounts how this lie revolutionises her reputation. Suddenly, her penchant "to help the downtrodden" leads to accepting vouchers from her desperate male classmates, in exchange for bragging rights about their fictitious hook ups with Olive, much to the chagrin of the religious clique - whose leader Marianne (Amanda Bynes, in her last role before retirement) spread the rumour in the first place.
Emma Stone already had a number of impressive on-screen appearances under her belt such as 'Superbad' and 'Zombieland' prior to 'Easy A', but it's her turn as Olive Penderghast - one of the pluckiest teen leads of the 2010s - that caught the world's attention and proved she could carry a film by herself (in an act of pure stamina, Stone shot all of her webcam and narration scenes for the film in a single 14-hour day). Director Will Gluck literally hit the jackpot with his breakout lead star, and the film raked in an impressive $75 million worldwide box office against a modest $8 million budget. What's so wonderful about Olive's character arc is seeing her take the reigns of a pretty traumatic experience - having your sex life become the talk of the school - and becoming a sex-positive icon, despite never actually having had sex. She is friendly but never a pushover, smart and cynical without being pretentious, an instant charm magnet talking at high speeds. She's a Gilmore girl for a generation that grew up watching 'Gilmore Girls'. Flanked by a star-studded supporting cast including Penn Badgley (TV's 'You' and 'Gossip Girl'), Stanley Tucci ('The Silence'), Patricia Clarkson (TV's 'Sharp Objects') and Lisa Kudrow ('Booksmart'), it's amazing that despite how hilarious her co-stars are, 'Easy A' always feels like Stone's film. While she would later go on to much more acclaimed roles, even winning an Oscar for her incredible performance in 'La La Land', Emma Stone's most iconic role will always be Olive in my heart.
'EASY A' TRAILER
Thankfully, the killer comedic moments in 'Easy A' are not hogged by Stone either. Tucci and Clarkson look like they're having the time of their lives as Olive's uber-cool parents Dill and Rosemary (foods are a running name inspiration in the Penderghast family), from having Olive turn her dinner into curse words ("Spell it with your peas! Do it!") to alluding to their - ahem - colourful sexual histories. The razor-sharp script by Broadway writer Bert V. Royal gives the film a high replay value, no doubt the reason why so many of the film's best one-liners have made their way into my regular pop-culture reference roster.
'Easy A' was released when I was 15, on the cusp of Olive's age and being seen by others as a young woman whether I was ready for it or not. Social media wasn't quite as prevalent back then, when revenge porn was still an extreme act and not something teenagers dealt with on a regular basis. Despite this, slut-shaming still existed, and it meant the world to me to see a female film character take control of the unwarranted reputation bestowed upon her. 'Easy A' is an incredibly loose adaptation of 'The Scarlet Letter', which Olive herself is studying in class, cheekily poking fun at the parallels between the story and her life - except where Hester Prynne actually committed the adulterous act she is accused of, Olive can't even get a kiss from her crush. "If Google Earth were a guy, he couldn't find me if I was dressed up as a 10-storey building," she declares in the film's opening scene. Branded with the same slutty label, Olive decides to make these parallels literal by stitching the same red felt "A" to her clothes as the one Hester is made to wear. Olive is smart enough to realise that if her peers are going to define her purely through her sexuality, she's going to make sure they do it on her own terms, simultaneously highlighting the rampant hypocrisy in how her sexual exploits are treated compared to that of her male classmates. After hilariously tricking an entire house party into thinking she has slept with gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd, 'Sisters'), it's worth noting the difference between how the party accepts Brandon versus Olive. Brandon is celebrated by the jocks; Olive is given side glances and forced to endure crude jokes behind her back. 'Easy A' perfectly demonstrates how sex can be used as a weapon to get ahead socially for men, and Olive uses this knowledge to act in a way that makes high school an equal playing field.
'Easy A' is an incredibly important look into how female sexuality can be controlled and governed by others from teenagerhood.
Another element that 'Easy A' absolutely nails (hehe, get it?) is the near-constant tributes to iconic teen films of the 80s such as 'The Breakfast Club' and 'Sixteen Candles'. Like her audience, Olive has grown up idolising these films and is quick to point out the stark contrasts between the experiences of the teens in those films versus her own. Rather than just ripping off iconic moments from these films, however, 'Easy A' turns them into things Olive actually desires and seeks, so when these moments actually play out in her own story, they never feel derivative. Olive mentions wanting "a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason" in the same vein of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'; unbeknownst to her, she actually gets two. In addition to the reindition of 'Knock on Wood' she performs for the school in the film's final minutes, Natasha Bedingfield's 'Pocketful of Sunshine' is forever indebted to this film for getting stuck in the heads of many for years since.
Ever since the clock ticked over into 2020, writing this love letter to 'Easy A' has been on my mind. Even after 10 years, its themes of female sexuality and slut-shaming in teenagers is as pervasive as ever, and I am so glad I had this movie growing up - a clever teen sex comedy that never resorts to being overly raunchy. In addition to being hilarious, it is an incredibly important look into how female sexuality can be controlled and governed by others from teenagerhood, teaching its young female audience that "it is nobody's goddamn business" except their own. I couldn't have said it better myself.