In the pantheon of Teen Movies, Easy A falls squarely in the Good-Not-Great tier, never really reaching the heights of Clueless or Dazed and Confused. It’s a fun, smart film that provides solid laughs, a bit of insight into the damaging cycle of slut-shaming and a lesson about how we should all get off our high horses and quit judging people. But it’s also a bit of a mess in terms of story (the forced but not entirely natural Scarlet Letter parallels don’t help), and while the initial premise is strong, like many Good-Not-Great Teen Movies before it, Easy A drags a bit in the back half.
Still, it does have one invaluable weapon in its arsenal: Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as the greatest movie parents of all-time.
Easy A tells the story of Olive Penderghast, a wise-beyond-her-years teen played by Emma Stone. When Olive, who is very much not getting any, off-handedly lies about her lack of sexual activity to her friend, word begins to spread, and before long, she’s labeled the official school harlot. Brandon, a barely closeted classmate, asks Olive to pretend to sleep with him so he stops getting bullied and she agrees. Following that successful endeavor, she begins helping a bevy of her male classmates fake it until they make it. But as the rumors spread, she finds herself becoming a social pariah and has to figure out a way to reveal the truth.
Throughout the movie, Olive looks to her parents, Dill (Tucci) and Rosemary (Clarkson), for advice and support, and they’re more than up for the task, especially considering what we’ve come to expect from movie parents, specifically in Teen Movies.
Teen Movie parents typically fall into three categories: authoritative, absent-minded and literally absent. The Authoritative Parent (10 Things I Hate About You, Lady Bird) believes in constant vigilance, stern lectures and a strict set of rules that their kids are required to follow under penalty of death by stern lecture. The Absent-Minded Parent (She’s the Man, American Pie) is too dumb, negligent or desperate to be liked by their kids to bother actually raising them. And the Literally Absent Parent (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Grease) is nowhere to be found.
All three help the story function in their own way. The Authoritative Parent is a fascist machine against which our hero can rage. The Absent-Minded Parent allows the teens to get into all sorts of wacky hijinks without having to worry about dear old mom and dad getting in the way. While the Literally Absent Parent creates a lawless land where all who wander are, in fact, lost (there’s usually an extra splash of angst in these movies, as the teens secretly crave some sense of structure and/or belonging).
These archetypes aren’t bad, but they do tend to make most Teen Movie parents, at best, a source of comic relief, and at worst, the movie’s villain. Dill and Rosemary Penderghast don’t fall into any of these categories. Instead, they transcend them.
Of course, most of the credit goes to Tucci and Clarkson, who are unsurprisingly phenomenal. Their performances are filled with humor, compassion and wisdom without being condescending. It’s also clear they not only like their kids (which isn’t the case in a disturbing amount of teen movies), but they like each other, too — a lot. The sexual energy they proudly display would make legendary horndogs Gomez and Morticia Addams proud.
The dynamic duo first get to flex their parenting skills when Olive tries to get them to corroborate that she spent a night at home rather than painting the town red, like her classmates believe. Along with making it clear that they have their daughter’s back without prying too much, they also get in a few fantastic lines about fertility (Dill apparently has slow swimmers) and their less-than-traditional family unit, which includes Tucci’s brilliant faux-outraged reaction to their Black son informing them he’s well aware that he’s adopted.
Later, when Olive gets detention for calling a particularly judgy classmate an “abominable twat,” do Dill and Rosemary yell at her? Nope. Instead, they try and guess what word she used before gleefully imagining what kind of punishment they would give her if they were Authoritative Parents. They know their daughter well enough not to blindly punish her for punishment’s sake, though they begin to sense something else is going on. And when Olive’s closeted classmate comes to fake court her, they separately give her some sex-positive advice while arguably oversharing about their own sexual past and present.
In these three brief scenes, it’s clear that Dill and Rosemary have created an empathic environment where their kids feel welcome to talk about what they’re going through. They’re also not repressed and openly talk about some of the traditionally “taboo” subjects between teens and parents, most of which revolve around sex.
Meanwhile, as Olive’s web of lies (and subsequent judgment from her peers) starts to emotionally suffocate her, her parents step in and try to help. She’s initially unwilling to swallow her pride and be honest with them, but right around the time she hits rock bottom, she finally has a heart-to-heart with Rosemary. And in the most touching scene of the movie, Rosemary talks about her own experience with being slut-shamed before giving Olive a genuinely great pep talk that most of us probably could have used during our shittiest moments of teenagedom.
“You’re wonderful,” she tells Olive. “And you’ll handle this the same way I did — with an incontrovertible sense of humor. But you’re much smarter than I am so you’ll come out of this much better than I did.”
She’s not giving her daughter some grand speech laden with clichés. She’s giving her something much more helpful: real support. And that support gets Olive back on track to clear her name and force the rest of the school to reconsider their slavish devotion to the almighty rumor mill.
So while Easy A might not be a Great- or God-Tier Teen Movie, Dill and Rosemary certainly are. In fact, in my mind, they probably just finished up counseling their grandchildren on some thorny matter and are getting ready to engage in some mind-blowing, slightly freaky sex.