By Kit Bowen

Right off the bat, let’s just go for the total cliché, shall we?  Easy A gets an A+ for keeping the teen high school comedy clever and quirky.

I admire any teen comedy that strays off the beaten path and thoroughly entertains – films like Mean Girls and Superbad come to mind – and now Easy A. Story centers on one particular student named Olive (Emma Stone), who doesn’t really follow any kind of clique, mostly stays by herself or with her BFF, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), and is one smart cookie. Although most real-life teenagers would never be as eloquent as Olive, she is, nonetheless, a reasonably realistic teen, who deals with the mundane with a wry sense of humor. She gets this, as we come to find out, from her totally eccentric parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci)… but more on that later.

The trouble begins when Olive lies to Rhia about sleeping with a college guy, which is then overheard by the school’s Christian youth leader (Amanda Bynes) and is circulated appropriately. And although Olive starts to get some serious cred from this alleged promiscuity, she knows she’ll have to fess up and say it didn’t happen. Or does she? She does tell her gay pal Brandon (Dan Byrd) the truth, but he sees it as an opportunity to call off the mean dudes who pummel him regularly — that is, if she agrees to pretend to have sex with him. It seems Olive is a sucker for a sad case and says yes, which, in turn, leads to more sad cases until Olive becomes the  A-No.1 “fake” harlot of the school. Rather than correct the situation, she embraces it, embroidering the letter “A” on her new, sluttier wardrobe – symbolizing Hester Prynne’s predicament in The Scarlet Letter, a book she is reading in English class. Of course, things get pretty nutty fairly quickly, but Olive thinks she’s found a solution to get her out this mess.

Kudos to first-time screenwriter Bert V. Royal for taking a staid genre and making it wholly fresh. It’s  obvious he has a thing for John Hughes/Cameron Crowe ’80s teen comedies (which Olive makes reference to at one point) – and why wouldn’t he? Sixteen Candles and Say Anything are some of the genre’s classics. But Royal spins his own tale, and seriously, you know you have a solid, intelligent script if you can attract the likes of Oscar nominees Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci to star in a high school comedy. Tucci and Clarkson are, by the way, one of the best parts of Easy A, having almost too much fun as Olive’s forward-thinking parents, who also instill goodhearted familial values. The other best part is Emma Stone, who shoulders her first film after impressive supporting roles in flicks like Superbad, Zombieland, The House Bunny and yes, even Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Her comedic timing is impeccable, and she never seems to force anything, letting it grow organically. If she continues to pick smart projects like she has been, we’ll be hearing from her for a long time.

Other standout performances include Thomas Haden Chuch as Olive’s cool English teacher and Lisa Kudrow as his kooky wife and school guidance counselor, who has a secret of her own. It’s also nice to see Amanda Bynes back in the comedy swing of things, playing the uptight Jesus freak, while Gossip Girl‘s Penn Badgley aptly suffices as Olive’s object of unrequited affection. And finally, a word about director Will Gluck, who makes Easy A his second film. Gluck, who is best known as a TV writer and producer, made his directorial debut with another teen comedy, Fired Up! — which, aside from some typical conventions, isn’t half bad. But he’s improved a great deal with Easy A, taking Royal’s sharp script and visualizing it sufficiently. Gluck’s next film, which he also wrote, is the Justin Timberlake/Milas Kunis yarn Friends with Benefits. Kinda looking forward to it now.

In the meantime, go see the easy on the laughs, entirely enjoyable Easy A.