Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) has a point to make. The exact nature of that point is a bit hazy, but hey, this is a girl who finds ways to make a 2008 presidential election metaphor in regards to discussing the difference between the Disney theme parks on each coast. She’s a tad on the Trees side of the Forest or Trees debate.

Olive is just the kind of role for Stone, who is caustic in delivery and vocal intonation and can play the contradiction of seeming confident in being awkward. It’s a solid performance from an actress who should be liked but that cannot overcome the basic fact that the character is too overbearing, with a central motivation that is too unsure. Olive is not the only problem, just a major one, and it’s unfortunate that Stone is caught in the middle.

Olive is and has been a nameless face-in-the-crowd as far back as she can remember, and all of that is about to change, she narrates from a video diary. It all starts with a little, white lie.

Instead of going camping with best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) and her parents, Olive says she has a date with a made-up guy, which she figures is harmless compared to a weekend with Rhia’s ultra-hippie parents. Her actual weekend consists of listening to a song she purports to hate on repeat, but when pressed by Rhia after making a slip of the tongue that she spent the whole time with her invented companion, Olive admits to having imaginary sex with her imaginary date.

Unfortunately, Marianne (Amanda Bynes), one of the school’s fundamentalist Christians, overhears the conversation, which Olive flourishes with details (down to the types of candles he bought for the occasion), and soon enough, the entire school knows who Olive is based solely on the fact that she has done the deed.

Bert V. Royal’s screenplay is a lot less clever than it imagines it is, and based on the onslaught of pop culture references, pithy witticisms, self-aware reflections, and sarcastically superior characters, Royal imagines it to be quite the crafty charmer. The inspiration for Olive’s crusade against sanctimonious judgment comes from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which coincidentally, as Olive points out always seems to happen in teen movies, her English class is currently reading. Just be sure to watch any movie version of the book apart from the one starring Demi Moore, she warns, in a joke that, despite its inherent truth, continues the movie’s transparent efforts (Thomas Haden Church, at least, is funny as the English teacher in his droll delivery of knowing clichés).

When the rumors start flying and elaborating (her partner transforms from high schooler to older man to three men at once), she dons a scarlet “A” attached to her self-tailored corsets. If everyone thinks she’s had sex and that having sex makes her a woman of loose virtue, she’s going to advertise it. To what end, one might ask? Well, it simply makes a statement, you see, about something.

Surely there’s a double standard about perceptions of sexually active teens. After all, none of the other guys she pretends she had sex with are judged as being immoral. Yes, she continues the first lie and helps to concoct lies for other people. Brandon (Dan Byrd), a kid in the closet, wants her to act like they had sex so he can fit in. The movie’s funniest scene is in the performance of their lie, jumping on the bed, moaning, groaning, and, once, whinnying, and pounding on the walls for the entertainment of the kids listening outside the door.

It turns into a business for those who discover the truth. Pay Olive in gift certificates to her favorite stores, and she won’t deny getting to first, second, or third base, or all the way. Royal makes passing notice of the phenomenon, but it’s not the point.

No, the point, as near as can be determined, comes from the propensity to pass judgment on others. Hardly groundbreaking in and of itself, the matter is complicated further by the fact that the school’s population consists of one-note stereotypes (with jokes at the expense of them). It’s A-OK to be yourself, as long as the basic concept of that self fits squarely into some preconceived notion of what it should be.

Easy A is simply too cynical for its own good. Our only response to such an ambush of skepticism is to be skeptical ourselves.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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