Film Review: Booksmart
Director: Olivia Wilde
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Victoria Ruesga, Eduardo Franco, Noah Galvin, Austin Crute, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Mike O’Brien, Will Forte
Running Time: 102
Australian Distributor: Universal Pictures Australia
Booksmart, the debut directorial feature from Olivia Wilde, is a very satisfying movie for anyone who was never cool enough to see themselves in the star of a ‘90s teen comedy. Covering that last hurrah before graduation, in which two girls are determined to shed their “booksmart” ways and have a fun night, this film could be destined to become a teen classic — and to become a shining example of good “teen” storytelling.
Best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) spent all of high school buckling down, skipping parties, and studying in the library, determined to get into the colleges of their choice. Not like their supposed burnout, partying classmates, destined for second class lives. And it works! They get in: Amy to Columbia and Molly to Yale.
The girls are in for a shock, however. Their school has a policy in which students don’t discuss which college they’re going to, so as not to make anyone feel left out. Which is why it takes until the day before graduation for the girls to find out that their burnout classmates, as it turns out, aren’t burnouts after all. They managed to party and have sex and do the “silly teen” things but they also earned stellar grades, and get into the colleges of their choice.
Rocked by that discovery, Amy and Molly decide that they’re going to go and party hard on the night before graduation and see what they were missing. It kicks off a wild time.
Booksmart follows the pair through a series of mishaps, missed connections, triumphs, sexual discovery, and personal revelations. It’s a movie about friendship and being a good person, revising your prejudices and assumptions about others, and being brave enough to own up to who you are.
In Olivia Wilde’s hands, and with a screenplay penned by four women, the film feels like an evolution for the genre. That’s probably because it focuses on more than just Amy and Molly (though Feldstein and Dever are hilarious and perfect in their roles). A rich cast of teens proves that neither virtue nor vice exclusively belongs to one social group. There’s the most popular guy in school, who turns out to be really sweet, and the least popular guy, who turns out to be much more interesting than anyone expected. There’s the girl Amy is crushing on hard and the girl she hates, both of whom surprise her.
Which means that Booksmart doesn’t really have a villain. And telling a story that lacks villains isn’t easy. It’s rare in the teen movie genre. The true beauty of the film is that it combines realistic warmth with over the top bawdy humour. The music is non-stop and punctuates so much of the film and is put together by the legendary Dan the Automator, who produced Dr. Octagon and the Gorillaz.
Booksmart is a smart, super good comedy that will have you laughing and shaking your head in approval. It is one of the best movies of 2019 and one of the genre’s best examples.
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