Booksmart is a fresh and creative take on the rowdy, coming-of-age, party-hearty flick. Equal parts Superbad and Broad City, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is smart, woke, and hilarious.
Senior girls Molly (Beanie Feldstein, Neighbors 2) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, Short Term 12) are studious teens who, with graduation drawing near, realize that they are “uncool.” Their classmates, much less worried about school work, have partied and socialized while still getting into top notch schools. As a result, the book smart girls decide to go out and live it up in an attempt to catch up on all the partying they missed.
Olivia Wilde’s direction of Booksmart is full of musical cues and creative exposition. The final school bell rings and the halls fill with raucous students as Dan the Automator’s soundtrack booms into full volume. An underwear pool plunge is filmed entirely under water as Amy looks for her crush. This film is full of snappy cuts, booming tracks, and surprisingly well framed shots. It would be easy to forget that this is Wilde’s first gig directing.
What is even more baffling is the smorgasbord of young talent the film totes. Each young face has a legitimate presence in the movie, and each holds the spotlight well, no matter how long their moment lasts. Keep track of these young guns, it would be a crime if they didn’t go on to do more great things.
Booksmart is also full of cameos. From Will Forte (Last Man on Earth) and Lisa Kudrow (Friends) as Amy’s out of touch but endearing parents, to Principal Brown, played by Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers). Even Jessica Williams (The Incredible Jessica James) and daughter of the late Carrie Fischer, Billie Lourd (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), pop onto screen. The latter quite literally.
All of these pieces fit together charmingly into one of the best buddy, “ride or die” friend movies that has hit the big screen. The dynamic between Feldstein and Dever is electric and contagious. Often times leading to spurts of uncontrollable laughter, and when it isn’t strong laughter it is subconscious chuckles. The theater was full of hissing and snorting. Yet, at the core of all of this humor, Booksmart has really poignant points to get across to its viewers. Most important in those lessons: Don’t judge people, and don’t box yourself in because of other peoples’ judgements of you.
The film isn’t all laughs, but when it deviates down a more serious path, those deviations feel earned. The relationships of all the characters on screen are put together so thoroughly that every attempt at being deep, or sharing real wisdom lands effortlessly. Amy’s character struggles with expressing her sexuality, Molly struggles with her insecurities, Jared (Skyler Gisondo, Vacation) has to figure out how to get out from under a rumored identity. All of these things hit their mark. Each struggle brings the viewer a little deeper into their own high school experiences, as comparatively boring as those experiences may have been. Seriously…I am 100% positive my high school didn’t have parties like this.
Booksmart really is the love child of Superbad, which coincidentally starred Feldenstein’s brother Jonah Hill, and Broad City. It is a heartwarming, powerfully feminist concoction that stands proudly on the shoulders of its cast and crew and shouts way past 3am. When Amy and Molly finally stand on that graduation stage, you can’t help but start missing them already. | Caleb Sawyer