The sassy girl next door in Easy A

Easy A is a comedy about a teenage girl (Olive Penderghast) who lies to her best friend about having sex (because her friend wouldn’t stop hassling her) and becomes the school slut overnight, thanks to gossip travelling the social networking grapevine. She decides to have fun with her new notoriety and dress up as a slut, her new wardrobe consisting largely of bustiers with red “A”s sewn on them. (They’re studying The Scarlet Letter in class.)

Then a gay male friend begs her to be his girlfriend to help him blend in until he can finish high school (he’s not ok with being out yet), and so the two of them pretend to be drunk and have loud sex at a party where everyone can hear them. From there, she takes to allowing other boys to lie about having sex with her in exchange for gift cards, mostly because she’s a nice girl who has a hard time saying no to people after hearing their sob stories. At the same time, her parents, her English teacher, and the school counsellor are concerned for her and her friend Rhi joins up with the Christian club to denounce her harlot ways. It was fun for a while, but then it all falls apart, Olive decides to end her career as a fake slut with a bang, and it all kinds of works out.

Olive is not what I would call a *strong* female character. She’s no Amazon warrior, and she isn’t really strong-minded enough to tell her friend the truth at the beginning: the boyfriend was invented to get out of going camping with Rhi’s nudist family. Basically she’s a nice girl, smart, fun, with common sense and a definite sassy streak, but a little too accommodating when people try to take advantage of her. More like medium-strong than strong-strong. A girl-next-door, pretty safe by Hollywood standards.

But did I say she was fun? And if she’d been strong-minded enough to tell Rhi the truth at the beginning, there would be no film.

The other female characters include a prudish teen, a “slutty” teen, a cool mom, and an open-minded guidance counsellor. There is a lot of talk about sex in this film, but very little action. If talking about sex is ok, the film passes the Bechdel/Wallace test many times. And while Olive wears sexy bustiers, somehow they manage to look kind of cute on her, rather than sleazy-sexy. It’s “fun” sex, not “sexy” sex – safe for teens, I guess.

All of the women, and almost everyone else, is white. Maybe this is typical of Ojai, California? Olive has a black younger brother, whose sole purpose appears to be to make her family look more open-minded, as far as I can tell. The one brown boy I remember is one of the losers who pays to get fake-laid. But there’s a fun joke with a black man at the end.

One of the other things I liked about this film is that people have known each other since kindergarten. There’s a sense of community I don’t see much in films, and it buffers the gossip somewhat.

I went to high school in the John Hughes era, in a country with a much lower age of consent, and the newspapers were constantly feeding us statistics telling us half of us had done it already, so I really don’t identify with the culture at Olive’s high school where if a girl has sex, she’s a slut. I think at my school, if it was with a serious partner, it was fine. To me the film seemed more like science fiction than reality (what if . . . ?). But I can see how, if teens are not comfortable with their own sexuality yet (as Rhi was not), they might gossip incessantly about other teens’ sex lives as a way of coping. And this film might give people a chance to talk more about attitudes towards sex.

This movie is getting strong reviews all over the place, so I suspect it will become a classic. Even with all the references to ’80s teen flicks.


  1. says

    I really liked the movie. I went in dreading the inevitable and nauseating “sex is a Very Serious Thing that you should only have with a Very Special Person” ending, and was wildly relieved when it didn’t happen. And I really loved the actual message: “Um, other people’s sex life is none of your damn business.”

    I grew up about two hours from Ojai–Los Olivos–and the community was mixed white (and extremely blonde) and Latino. I think there was one black kid in my class in middle school. So that didn’t ring false for me right then, although on further analysis, I was judging by the standard of a way smaller town.

  2. Brand Robins says

    Everyone I know in Ojai is “white” though some of them are Hispanic whites. (In most of California very European looking Spanish speakers are sometimes white and sometimes not.) I’d say at least 80% of the city is pretty white bread, with the majority that aren’t being Latino.

    Of course, I’m not sure I buy demographic reality as a reason why the film is whiter than my toast….

    Anyway, I’d been on the fence about this one. I thought it could be mildly funny or mildly terrible (with a very small chance of being both), so this review makes me have better feelings about seeing it.

  3. Casey says

    I can’t really identify with all the sex gossip either, mostly because I was anti-social, but the few times I DID hang out with a group of peers, I don’t remember them talking about “ZOMG SO-AND-SO IS BOFFING WHOEVER.” I DO remember a girl I’d known since elementary school who was always mean to me discuss her uncle having raped her when she was young (he was on trial for it by then)….pretty heavy. 0_0
    (we had make-out/pot-smoking/beer-drinking parties back in middle school though, LOL :P)

    I mostly didn’t want to see this movie because it looked obnoxious (most teen sex-comedies are to me) and the main character was just another generically attractive “cool loser” character (but she’s ginger).

    • says

      Actually, one of the things I liked about it was that she wasn’t a loser in the movie, she was just one of the masses who wore regular clothes. She wasn’t Laney Boggs – we put cute clothes on her and took her glasses off and, who knew? we made her beautiful!

      Although I can totally see your point – I really like crappy teen movies, and this was above average from a feminist perspective, which was nice to see. If crappy teen movies aren’t your thing then you prolly wouldn’t have liked it :)

      • Casey says

        Oh, well when I say “cool loser” I mean a character who is by no means a member of the popular clique, but not a social pariah, really, just in the middle. But they’re a wise-cracker/always making sarcastic remarks, like a watered-down Daria, but still Hollywood beautiful.

      • P says

        Ah, Laney Boggs. As if anything short of heavy prosthetic makeup is going to hide Rachael Leigh Cook.

        (Although to be fair, She’s All That doesn’t paint Laney as unattractive, but as hostile and anti-social, the reasons Zach cites for not wanting her chosen as subject of the bet.)

        • Maria says

          I actually really liked She’s All That — I think parts of it are a really smart critique of the artificiality of gender and how it’s performative.

  4. M.C. says

    The films looks like fun, but I really can’t identify with it. In my school you were a loser if you were still a virgin at 17 – didn’t matter if you were male or female.

  5. Jhamin says

    I thought the sexual rumor-mill portrayed in the film wasn’t all that different from my suburban Mid-western high school in the early 90s. A few long-time couples were assumed to be having sex but it was *scandalous* if folks thought anyone had multiple partners or had sex after only knowing someone for a short time.

    The scene that bothered me the most in the film was when an overweight student having just finished some kind of swimming lesson approaches her for her 2nd fake date in Gym class. When the main character baulks at continuing the lie the kid immediately starts sobbing about how unattractive he is and *pulls a candy bar out of his wet swimtrunks* and starts eating there and then.

    I thought the “see how sad the fattie is” scene was really jarring compared to how smart the rest of the movie was trying to be.

    • says

      I thought that it fitted in with the other people she helps – everyone gives her a sob story and she caves in. I did think the chocolate bar was unnecessary.

    • Anemone says

      And one of the other losers was a person of colour (South Asian??). They really went for some bad stereotypes, there. From the trailer, I was expecting all her customers to be gay like the first one.

      • says

        That’s what I had thought was going to happen, too.

        My impression from the trailer was that the school was very religious and/or had a large very religious student population, and the main character (Olive) was going to be the resident “cover girl” for all the gay students. Hmmm.

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