Easy A (2010)

There has been such a great wealth of teen-girl-POV sex comedies in recent years that it’s easy to take the genre’s gender-flipped resurgence for granted.  Titles like Blockers, Booksmart, Plan B, and Never Have I Ever have successfully de-Porkys‘d the high school sex romp entirely, to the point where the 80s straight-boy fantasies of yore are more of a distant memory than a ripe target for feminist satire.  It took years to ramp up to this new, de-jocked normal, though, and it’s easy to lose perspective on how far the genre’s default POV has come.  When The To Do List attempted to give teen girls’ libidos a spin at the wheel for a change in 2013, it got away with it by casting fully-grown adults in the teen roles and setting its horny hijinks decades in the past, filtering its transgression through an ironic remove.  In 2022, the Hulu series Sex Appeal borrows The To Do List‘s exact premise wholesale (in which an uptight honors student applies her academic work ethic to learning how to be good at sex) without having to soften its post-Porky’s hook.  The genre has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, especially considering how long mainstream comedies were specifically about boys’ quests to shed their virginities in opposition to the demure deflections of their female classmates.

2010’s Easy A might even be a clearer benchmark for the genre’s recent progress than The To Do List, since it’s a teen-girl sex comedy about its heroine not having sex.  Emma Stone stars as a precocious high school senior whose self-serving lie about losing her virginity to a college student spirals out of control, falsely labeling her as The School Slut.  As an early prototype for a Blockers-style revisionist sex comedy, it is embarrassingly restricted by how much sexual desire “good girls” were allowed to express onscreen in its time.  Our heroine has no interest in participating in the sexual adventures her peers imagine her to be indulging.  When a friend gifts her a vibrator as a thank-you present it’s played as a cheeky joke.  Of course, she wouldn’t use one of those.  She’s a good girl.  Easy A is set in a bizarre fantasy world where California high school students are having so little sex that it becomes the talk of the town when a senior loses her virginity (except don’t worry, she didn’t, really).  It makes a semi-progressive moral stance against slut-shaming gossip, but to get there it has to pretend that smart, well-mannered teen girls don’t actually want to have sex.  That’s still reserved for the realm of mouth-breathing boys (such as the leads of 2007’s Superbad, Emma Stone’s professional breakout).

Contemporary timidness about teen girls’ libidos aside, Easy A is cute.  If you haven’t noticed in her star-making decade that followed, Emma Stone is a charismatic, easily loveable performer who has no trouble commanding the spotlight.  Here, she’s saddled with a near-unbearable overload of voice-over narration—delivered directly to camera via a late-aughts webcast—which includes disastrously overwritten chapter titles like “The Shudder Inducing and Clichéd However Totally False Account of How I Lost My Virginity to a Guy at Community College.”  She handles the challenge ably, though, working in crash-course lit guides to The Scarlet Letter and twisty self-owns like “I’m not really as smart as I think I am” with a casual ease.  By the time she’s riffing with her absolutely delightful parents (Patricia Clarkson & Stanley Tucci), it even feels like she’s having fun (though not near as much fun as they’re having).  I don’t know that the movie ever graduates from cute to hilarious, but I also don’t fit its target demographic anyway: 12-year-olds who want to feel Adult.  The film is basically a slightly-growed-up version of a Disney Channel Original—tipped off by the villainous presence of Amanda Bynes—and for that, it’s endearing enough to get by.

Maybe I’m not giving Easy A enough credit for pushing mainstream-sex-comedy boundaries in the dark days of 2010s.  It blatantly announces to the audience (through rapid-fire montages) that it intends to mash The Scarlet Letter together with 1980s John Hughes comedies, and it certainly achieves that goal, however chaste.  It also takes a few pot shots at overly religious sex-negativity, assuming the audience shares its pronounced secular worldview, which does feel bold for the time.  I’m just hung up on the idea that it’s a teen sex comedy where no teens actually want to have sex (except one dastardly cad who propositions the lead for an act of prostitution).  Its idea of provocation is dressing Stone in lingerie top & blue jeans combos to test the boundaries of her school’s dress code.  That would certainly raise the eyebrows in any American high school, even today, but it still feels timid considering what similar comedies have done since.

-Brandon Ledet

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