Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. This week, we’re looking back on films that feature great comedic performances that the Academy didn’t nominate for Best Actor or Best Actress.
By the time Emma Stone starred in the breezy teen comedy Easy A, she had already become a recognizable face in American cinema. Thanks to attention-grabbing supporting turns in hugely popular films like Superbad and Zombieland, Stone’s easygoing and charismatic presence marked her as a character actor who could imbue her roles with a grounded, relatable charm. Easy A flipped that equation: Instead of occupying the likable supporting role in a big film, Stone took center stage away from the movie itself, delivering a performance of such larger-than-life magnetism that, 90 minutes later, she was no longer the same actor. She was Emma Stone, Movie Star.
Stone’s hyperverbal nerd Olive Penderghast now sits proudly alongside other too-smart-for-their-own-good teen icons like Ferris Bueller and Pretty In Pink’s Andie Walsh. The story is a deeply superficial, postmodern gloss on The Scarlet Letter: After making up a fake story about losing her virginity, Olive’s bullied and closeted gay friend, Brandon (Dan Byrd), asks her to concoct a fake sexual encounter with him as well, in order to ease his torment at the hands of jock assholes. Soon, Olive becomes the go-to source for other unpopular boys to score an easy (and fictional) sexual anecdote, and it’s not long before her burgeoning reputation as the school slut makes her an outcast of a wholly different sort. Leaning into the rep, she begins wearing Hawthorne’s scarlet “A” on her clothes as a badge of defiance, until she starts to realize that reputations actually do mean something in the world.
There are a number of other subplots—a romantic interest (Penn Badgley), the pious mean kids led by Amanda Bynes’ vindictive Marianne, and Olive’s increasingly upset best friend (Aly Michalka)—but from start to finish, this is the Emma Stone show. It’s a powerhouse turn by a hungry young actor eager to prove to the world her Julia Roberts-level star wattage, remarkably vanity-free and bolstered by crack comedic timing. She outshines the material at every moment.
Easy A is an imperfect film. Bynes’ performance is little more than cheap mugging; several minor sequences are pure sitcom silliness; and while Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, as Olive’s mom and dad, are an absolute delight, they appear to have be teleported in from a planet where parents are perfect in every possible way. But none of that matters, because this is a movie elevated solely by Stone’s comedic chops, pulling everything around her up a level. It’s always exciting to watch the coming-out party of a major new talent, and in that regard, Olive Penderghast’s bad reputation was Emma Stone’s RSVP for her eventual—and well-deserved—star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
Availability: Easy A is available to rent or purchase through the major digital platforms. It can also be acquired on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, Netflix, or your local video store/library.