4.5 out of 5 stars.
“Booksmart” is the latest entry in a series of contemporary teen movies seeking to bring a fresher, more honest take and modern sensibilities to a genre that over time can easily become dated. But thanks to an incredible cast, smart script, and brilliant direction by Olivia Wilde in her directorial debut, “Booksmart” emerges as so much more than just another teen movie.
“Booksmart” is set on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy’s (Kaitlyn Dever) last day of high school. The two best friends spent all of high school studying hard and playing by the rules, getting into good colleges but becoming social outcasts as a result. But midway through the day Molly discovers that all the seemingly dumb jock and party girls also got into great schools. Molly becomes determined that she and Amy spent the last night before graduation going to their first high school party so that they can say that they also did both. They intend to go to the big party at Nick’s (Mason Gooding)—the most popular boy at school—but the night doesn’t exactly go as planned.
“Booksmart” is laugh-out-loud hilarious from start to finish, especially as Molly and Amy’s night becomes increasingly insane. A lot of the humor is derived from these two girls who are book smart but not real world smart trying to navigate weird social situations, from being the only people at their over-eager and wealthy classmate Jared’s (Skyler Gisondo) party to ending up in a Lyft driven by their school’s principal (Jason Sudeikis). The dialogue is funny and smart, and there are even some great running jokes and seemingly one-off gags that end up paying off at the end of the film.
But as funny as “Booksmart” is, it is also incredibly thoughtful when it comes to the themes of friendship (particularly female friendship) and the high school experience. Molly spends the whole movie trying to prove that she isn’t just the smart loner and that she can be fun, while simultaneously perpetuating the stereotypes surrounding her classmates. By the end of the film, they all realize that they aren’t defined by just one thing. It’s also wonderful to see the depth of Molly and Amy’s love for each other and how much they need each other. They have their own conflicts that come to a head toward the film’s conclusion; Molly is bossy while Amy lacks the courage to take charge. But we also see them constantly lifting each other up and refusing to let the other one put themselves down. Sure, they each have their side love interests, but those characters never figure very prominently in the story; this story revolves around Molly and Amy.
And who better to play Molly and Amy than Feldstein (who some of you may remember from another recent coming-of-age story, “Lady Bird”) and Dever? They both appear entirely at one with their characters and with each other. They sell both the comedy as well as the heavier scenes beautifully. And while this film belongs to them, each member of the supporting cast brings something special to the film as well. Sudeikis brings a wonderful dry sense of humor to all of his scenes. Billie Lourd is hysterical as the flighty Gigi, while Noah Galvin plays drama student George, whose murder mystery dinner party is just one of the stops Molly and Amy make on their night out. We also get some humorous scenes with Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams), the cool teacher, and Lisa Kudrow and Mike O’Brien as Amy’s parents.
A lot of credit is due to Wilde as well, whose direction really elevates the material. She does a great job transitioning the climax of the film from a fun party to an increasingly chaotic and nightmarish experience. She perfectly frames her shots depending on what the scene calls for—comedy or drama—and films an argument between Molly and Amy toward the end in a way that allows the rest of the world to fall away, focusing only on them. It’s a stunning first film for her that makes me excited to see what other directing projects she takes on in the future.
“Booksmart” does take a little bit of time to find its footing, but once it does, you’ll never want the ride to end. It’s contemporary without losing itself too much in the social media world that dominates most teens’ lives. It’s also an ode to all the smart girls who were good students in school, but has an important message that anyone—regardless of who or what they identify as—can take away from. That more than anything makes me think that this film will endure for a long time to come.
Runtime: 102 minutes. Rated R.