Directed by: Olivia Wilde
Written by: Emily Halpern, Sarak Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourde, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis
Reputations, especially in high school, are often constructed through misinformation but its label can define a person’s identity amongst their peers. They can range from being humorous to downright hurtful but they will always exist because humans compartmentalize in that way. Breaking through those reputations and seeing each person for who they are informs the uplifting message that Booksmart attempts to employ and does so with incredible comedic genius and a lovely friendship.
After always working hard on their grades and sacrificing social status, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) learn that the rest of their classmates gained admittance to the same colleges they got into while also partying seemingly ever weekend. That shocking information crumbles the basic foundation that Molly had followed her entire adolescent life, which centered on putting in the time to succeed and while others had more fun, they would not reach her level success. This revelation prompts the two life-long friends to attend a party and enjoy their last night as high schoolers before they go to college.
The high school coming-of-age genre has truly reached a high point in the 2010s delivering some standout classics that display the insecurities of youth growing up in the 2000s. Booksmart shows the journey of these two friends and moments in this conquest that test the fortitude of their friendship. I adore this film and every inch of every frame that Olivia Wilde put together, as she creates a big splash with her directorial feature film debut. Through her camerawork, she displays comfortability behind the camera for someone who made her career in front of it. The story feels so modern, from the vernacular to the songs chosen for the soundtrack. Everything in the story pertains to the living experience of the Gen-Z population, who grew up with social media and technology, unlike the generations before them.
A key to the film’s success falls on the humor and it works incredibly well. Much of the credit goes to the screenwriters, of course, but Billie Lourde absolutely stole the show with her incalculable performance. Famously the daughter of Carrie Fisher, Billie has been building herself up to be quite a comedic force with her appearances in the TV series, Scream Queens, and now with this iconic performance in Booksmart. She portrays Gigi, an extremely whimsical and outrageous character that appears randomly throughout the film. It doesn’t make sense, but her character becomes an enigma and whenever she appears on screen, she commands all of the attention in the room. There’s a moment at one of the party scenes where she jumps up from behind a bar to startle the other characters and asks someone about the location of the rubbing alcohol because everything else is far too weak for her. Billie personifies chaotic energy and becomes a force to be reckoned with in this film and I enjoyed every precious of her screen presence.
Music plays a large part in the narrative and storytelling style of the film, with several moments feeling like a music video accompanied by some catchy songs that I have been listening to ever since. They work so well with the story and the sentiments being felt by the characters. The best example proved to be “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius. The way that song plays during the scene it accompanies displays a raw feeling of affection, wonderment, nervousness, and pain. Truly a gorgeous sequence that further displays Olivia Wilde’s prowess as a director from seemingly out of nowhere. All the songs have a modern feel and fit the tone of the story.
The two lead performers exude the love for each other that comes directly from the screenplay. The characters Molly and Amy love each other so much even when they are each being dorky. The positivity of their affection becomes infectious and so lovely to witness in a time where negativity reigns. Even with how strong that friendship may be, it’s still tested and does show issues that have lingered and remained unspoken. One scene, in particular, shows everything that comes to light and it not only displays the incredible performances by Dever and Feldstein, but also Wilde’s calm and measured direction. The best scene of the film that left me nearly speechless because of the excellence of its execution.
Nearly every student in the story has a reputation with characters actively trying to break away from them. Our dynamic duo, Molly and Amy want to wreck the perception that they cannot have fun. While others, like Triple-A (Molly Gordon), has to battle being labeled negatively because of her sexual history. There are different levels to these reputations and the film does well to show these students mature throughout the story and move beyond relying on names established by rumors. Another bright spot that sheds positivity and love.
Booksmart has drawn comparisons to another coming-of-age classic that has endured through time, Superbad. While it follows some of the same plot points, this film takes everything that Superbad attempted to do and exceeds it. The jokes are better constructed and the characters aren’t insufferable to follow around for their night in search of fun. This story has so much heart and when the moments get emotional, it really lands. I buy that these two individuals are best friends and would do anything for one another. I never felt that in the other film.
By making me cry from laughter, tear up from the emotional sequences, and cheer for these characters, Booksmart cements itself as one of my favorite coming-of-age stories and one that I will be returning to for many years to come. Much more can be discussed that further displays the brilliance of the film from the romantic subplots, to the relationships with authority, but I want everyone to explore this beautiful and hilarious film to experience what Olivia Wilde put together. I loved every single second and I grew close to these characters in the short time of this feature film. Everything clicks and fires on all cylinders to create something that will instantly become a classic.