Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, and Jessica Williams
Director: Olivia Wilde
Synopsis: Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein star as childhood best friends Amy and Molly, high school seniors with the reputation of being anti-fun. In Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Amy and Molly set off on a quest to experience all of the fun of high school— the night before graduation.
Olivia Wilde adds to the canon of American teen movies with Booksmart, which is already being considered for cult status by critics. As much as this film relies on the tried and true staples of the genre, it always brings something new to the table.
When confronted with the reality that her peers have had fun as well as academic success, Molly questions what she’s spent her high school years doing. After convincing her similarly straight-laced best friend Amy to join her, the two begin a journey to find the ultimate high school partying experience, running into rich kids GiGi (Billie Lourd) and Jared (Skyler Gisondo), teachers (Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Williams), and a whole cast of fellow high school students.
This film was a joy to watch, with great performances, plenty of jokes, and a super cool soundtrack. Wilde truly executed a vision with her first feature, and the result is a movie that is more than entertaining and visually interesting— Booksmart is what happens when superb technical filmmaking meets compelling, fun, and heartfelt storytelling.
Feldstein is establishing herself as a balanced and deft actress as she shines just as brightly in Booksmart as in Ladybird. Similarly, Dever, who gained critical attention for her role in Short Term 12, delivered a brilliant performance. Although she had mostly dramatic scenes, which were more aligned with her previous work, Dever maintained the same wonderful talent and emotional honesty in her comedic scenes. It’s difficult to shine a spotlight on only a few actors, as the entire cast of Booksmart is worthy of recognition, however, Lourd very nearly steals the show away from the two leads, as she gave an electric performance that will almost certainly be remembered as one of the funniest teen-movie characters to grace the big screen. Another actor who stood out among such a talented cast was Molly Gordon in the role of “Triple-A”, who gave a truthful performance with surprising emotional resonance.
At an hour and 45 minutes, this film is fairly short, but it’s very well paced. There were a few flashy scenes, such as GiGi’s introduction, the psychedelic stop-motion section, or the fantasy dance sequence, but the majority of the film flowed seamlessly. Remarkably, Booksmart still has the plot beats and wild fun of a meandering teen odyssey in the vein of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or American Graffiti, but the most satisfying element of the film is that every moment is deliberate and written with clock-like precision. Every loose end is tied up in a way that feels natural, and no moment feels forced. Yet, each bit of the movie comes together like puzzles pieces. Even with a big-picture perspective, the script for Booksmart is clearly a triumph of filmmaking, to say nothing of the genuinely hilarious dialogue and delightfully layered characters. However, there were a few relationship beats which felt as though they were either missing or weak, most notably between Amy, Molly, and their respective love interests.
The magic of Booksmart is hard to pin down to only one thing, but a large part of why it feels so fresh and entertaining is the way the film approaches the genre of teen movie. Obviously, having the core of the film be the friendship between two bookish teenage girls is a change from the formula, but it functions less like a gimmick and more as a depiction of high school, simply from a different perspective. The choice to highlight this relationship has a ripple effect through the rest of the film. For instance, the way Booksmart handles sex is a far cry from the likes of American Pie or Cruel Intentions. Sex is a normal part of teenage life in Booksmart, not ignored but also not sensationalized. The closest the film gets to a sex scene is between Amy and a girl she likes, but it ends disastrously, as many teenage sexual encounters do. Another result of focusing on the relationship between Amy and Molly is that the majority of the film’s conflict is caused by their desire to support each other while still being different people. On the surface, Booksmart is about finding the perfect party, but it’s really about finding out who you are in the context of others. Nearly every teen-movie trope was approached with purpose and fresh eyes, from the overbearing parents to the origin of the nickname “Triple A”. The care that went into crafting this film is palpable, and each plot point and character reaps the benefits.
On a personal note: my name’s Rachel, and I’ve been writing film reviews for the Oracle throughout this year. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m sincerely touched that some people (mostly friends) are willing to listen to me spout my opinions about movies. Over this year, I’ve avoided discussing my personal thoughts or connections to movies. However, as this is my last review, I thought it would be fitting to talk a little about how Booksmart, a film about graduating from high school, impacted me, someone, only days away from graduating. I was not at all expecting to feel emotional about Booksmart, or about my own graduation. Somehow, though, I left the theater teary-eyed. As a quiet and smart kid who likes school, I could relate to Amy and Molly realizing that high school is over and wondering what there is to show for it besides a diploma and a college acceptance. Mountain View is a very academics focused school, and it can feel that one has spent the entire four years of high school studying and learning and hardly having a social life. These are normal anxieties for second-semester seniors to have, but I appreciated seeing that on screen and being forced to reflect on my own high school experience. I did not love high school, nor did I hate it. There were parts of my experience at MVHS that I loved, and there were parts that I hated. More than anything, I spent the past four years in a state of intense growth. Being a teenager is always a bit confusing and is never easy, as cliche as that sounds. I would not recognize my freshman year self, and I could not be more glad for that. I’ve grown so much, and my peers in the class of 2019 were witness to that, just as I have been witness to their growth. Yet it’s only now that I can look back and realize this. Booksmart dramatizes all of these unique aspects of graduating high school, puts everything into a fictional world with heightened situations and perfect endings, but the feelings are still the same. There’s nostalgia and fear and love and regret, all mixed up and muddled together. Ultimately, I don’t know that I’ll miss high school, but I am so very grateful for the experience, and the growth, and for everyone who’s helped me along the way.
Booksmart is an excellent film that is worth a watch regardless of age, but I want to again express my hope that the current class of graduates will take two hours out of their lives to go experience it in a theater.