The best praise I can give Easy A is that it can stand without shame alongside Clueless and Mean Girls as a female-friendly high school movie that’s just as watchable for guys and just as entertaining for grown-ups. That happens because of a likable lead actress (Zombieland’s Emma Stone) and a small cavalry of equally likable supporting roles from long-established adult performers – among them Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and Malcolm McDowell (!).

The success of Easy A starts from the script by Bert Royal, who writes dialogue that is hyper-articulate and just this side of over-sophisticated, but never cringe-inducing the way that the same kind of self-aware dialogue can be on teen-oriented TV shows. Credit is also surely due to director Will Gluck, who makes sure that his younger cast (including Stone, Amanda Bynes, Cougartown’s Dan Byrd, Gossip Girl‘s Penn Badgley, and Aly Michalka) all come off as genuine and believable. Well, except for the fact that Aly Michalka, as Emma Stone’s smoking-hot blond sidekick, looks more like a thirty-year-old stripper than a high school student. (Not that I’m complaining, really – obviously thirty-year-old strippers are some of my favorite people.)

As much as I liked Easy A, I do have to point out that in my opinion, the story starts from a flawed place, conceptually speaking. Easy A is a modern retelling of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, with rumors of deflowering causing complications for Emma Stone’s character, and the movie specifically name-checks that source of inspiration at many places. The problem is that America has changed dramatically in the two centuries separating The Scarlet Letter and Easy A. I certainly agree that this country remains way too puritanical on many issues, but I still don’t buy that this girl losing her virginity or not would cause such a stir. Back in high school, I’m sure my popped cherry would have been big news, but it didn’t work quite the same with the pretty girls. 

The movie’s message, about privacy and personal responsibility, is still valid and valuable – particularly as a companion piece to The Social Network – but not at face value. Here’s another backhanded compliment: The many homages and references to John Hughes movies also come off as trite and frankly, unnecessary – this movie stakes its own claim in teen-movie territory, it’s fun and original enough on its own and doesn’t need Simple Minds rocking out in the final scenes to be any more effective than it already is.

But that’s enough constructive criticism: There’s so much good and idyllic here, from Thomas Haden Church’s ingratiating teacher character (he really reaches his students because he doesn’t talk down to them), to Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the most buddy-like teen-movie parents ever (they are warm and loving and tolerant and open and as a result, their kids are too), to Emma Stone’s character solving her own problems with ingenuity and honesty. It’s kind of the way high school should work. It’s kind of the way society overall should work. A movie that makes me think such things absolutely deserves my recommendation. See it with someone you care about, old or young – it could be a great conversation starter.