UNITED ARTISTS RELEASING (2019)
Director: Olivia Wilde
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis
Be booksmart kids…and party.
Last year, Bo Burnham delivered his wonderful debut Eighth Grade – a coming-of-age story set around a slightly younger group of kids. Olivia Wilde has now thrown her debutant hat into the ring with Booksmart – the subjects here are slightly older, nearing college age, but the stock characters we all know from the genre are all there (nerd, jocks, bullies, outsiders, oddballs) – however, they just happen to be marvellously written. As does Booksmart.
Booksmart is about two young, smart girls who spend their entire high school lives studying and studying some more, eschewing the typical lives of teenagers in order to chase their Ivy League dreams content in the knowledge that their partying peers will soon be far beneath them. But, as their school days come to an end, they realise that they may have missed out on the best times of their lives, so decide to let their hair down for one wild night of partying and making up for lost time ahead of graduation. The problem with coming-of-age stories is that they quite easily and quickly adhere to or fall into formula, leaving the feeling that you’ve seen it all before. But, you know, when executed correctly, that’s not a bad thing. Bands often imitate their idols or peers, as do artists and, of course, filmmakers too, so the key is to create something fresh and vibrant whilst capturing the spirit of what’s come before. Sounds so, doesn’t it? Well, without meaning to discredit the marvellous work and passion Olivia Wilde poured into Booksmart, but, for a first-time director, she’s made this look all too easy. Booksmart is a wonderfully accomplished debut and a fine coming-of-age story centered on two appealing and joyfully acted lead characters. What Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein do with the characters of Amy and Molly (respectively) is just great to see. Two lead characters, simultaneously obnoxious and affable, that demands your attention throughout and that carry such rich chemistry that I believed these two could have been actual BFF’s. A hilarious supporting turn from Billie Lourd adds to the quirkiness and the cast overall (including one Lisa Kudrow) are solid to a tee.
Wilde captures the complex emotions and troubles that all teenagers face at that time of their life but also delivers a stinging rebuke to Amy and Molly’s smug idea that they, and only they, will go far in life due to their sacrificing social lives for study. Wilde twists and subverts conventional beats to keep Booksmart as fresh as possible leading up to the big (admittedly crowd-pleasing) finale. It’s also extremely NOW – not just in terms of language and references, but also in the way the females carry themselves with confidence and the open exploration of sexuality – Amy is a young lesbian and her sexuality is portrayed with a strong hand and head in a refreshing display. I’ve read this being compared to Superbad and it’s pretty easy to see why. Both movies wear their R rating with pride, however, this is a smarter, slicker movie and, yes, a better movie too. Not everything works perfectly, a mid-movie Barbie scene seemed out of touch and a bit of a stretch but the vast majority is just great – funny (very funny), sharply written and effortlessly cool.
I’ve mentioned before that every now and then, a so-called ‘smaller’ movie comes along and just blows the doors away with its quality and inherent watchability and Booksmart is the next in line. It really is a joy to behold in its portrayal of teenage highs and lows, through the weird, slightly wacky and wonderful right up to the majestic finale. Booksmart isn’t just wonderful, it’s a proudly fierce, fun and feminist hurricane.
June 11th 2019