Booksmart is directed by Olivia Wilde and stars Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, and Jason Sudeikis.
The story follows high school seniors Amy (Dever) and Molly; (Feldstein), two overachieving A+ students who have never made any time for partying or fun. On the eve of their graduation, the pair suddenly realize that their entire high school careers have been all work and no play. Out of fear of missing out, the two friends set off on their last night as seniors to party hard, live it up, and break some rules, all before the night is over.
What you may notice is becoming a common trend as of late is a number of comedic actors and actresses stepping up to the plate (or, the chair, rather) and making their directorial debuts. From Jordan Peele to Dax Shepard to Jonah Hill, each director has always managed to bring their own unique sense of direction and cinematic dexterity to the big screen. Through it all, some debuts have been phenomenal, others have fallen short of grace, and some have been CHiPs. (Trust me, kids, you don’t wanna be CHiPs.)
And now, after what’s been a pretty solid batting average in front of the camera, Olivia Wilde steps behind the camera to take a crack at the beloved (and slightly worn-out) high school coming-of-age comedy. Is Booksmart just another unfocused dramedy with no real substance, or does it have the right essence to hang with the best of the high school flicks?
Short answer: This movie is phenomenal. Long answer: See the short answer.
I haven’t been so impressed with a directorial debut in such a long time. There is a profound abundance of things to love about Booksmart. It is unrelentingly hilarious and wildly clever, has fantastic performances from its cast of (relatively) unknown talent, and wields a tenacious and undying spirit through and through. Its script is indubitably funny and well-written, and tells a diverse and inclusive coming-of-age story through the eyes of new protagonists without once sacrificing its genuinely funny humor or wildly raunchy nature.
A prominent challenge facing anyone who tries to write a high school comedy is to encapsulate a sense of humor that appeals to as many high school generations as possible, all the while keeping focus and maintaining the narrative course. Booksmart does the impossible and maintains this balance, yet never once loses sight of its true purpose: to make you laugh. There are a ton of great lines, running gags, and genuine laugh-out-loud moments that last until the credits roll, something I can’t say a lot of modern comedies accomplish.
In addition to being outright hysterical, this film is also very aware of the right moments to sober up and be mature. The way topics such as separation, equality, responsibility, sexuality, independence, and so many more are handled throughout the 105-minute runtime radiates a loving care and sets important precedents for the future of not only characters and comedies such as these, but also the future of cinema as a whole.
This film’s cast is also fantastic, with a number of unknown names that all completely bring it, solidifying themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the future. This being a film chock-full of high school students, each character throughout the film feels like a unique, distinct voice and not just a stereotype like you’ve probably seen in many high school flicks. That’s not to say the film isn’t without satire, as it lovingly takes a number of shots at the roles high schoolers play and the statuses they maintain in modern America, highlighting their best and worst qualities for the sake of creating unique and dynamic characters–and not caricatures. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a high school movie do that, and it absolutely works in this film’s favor.
The film’s more well-known players are also great, despite the fact that Forte and Kudrow only get about one or two moments to really do their thing. Sudeikis, on the other hand, is dynamite in every scene he’s in; and has a moment right around the middle that is now one of two theater spit-takes I’ve ever done in my life.
The real magic, however, is found within the film’s two leads. Dever’s Amy and Feldstein’s Molly are phenomenal in every second they occupy the screen, and are far and beyond my favorite part of a movie that already has so much to offer. The pair genuinely felt like the best of friends, and share tons of fantastic moments that truly never once felt unauthentic or forced. Their onscreen chemistry is mind-blowingly awesome, making them easily the best characters in the whole flick, and one of my favorite movie duos in quite a long while.
Even in attempting to be as objective as I can, I can’t for the life of me recall anything I *really* disliked about the film. Like many high-school adventures of its time, it does falter a little in terms of pacing and narrative focus around the middle, but even that lull eventually serves a higher narrative purpose with plenty of payoff in the third act. I suppose the one thing that really bugged me about this flick is a particular character that, while not enough to compromise the film in any significant manner, was generally pretty irritating every time he was onscreen. You’ll know which character I’m talking about when you see the film. That’s about as far as I can reach into the negative side of things.
You know what? I think I’m about to give my first A+ of the year.
Booksmart is so many things. It’s a fresh and inclusive coming-of-age tale that is roaringly funny and smart, a great ensemble film with tons of heart and fantastic performances, and is one of the most impressive debuts, quite frankly, I’ve ever seen. It is an incredibly important and hilariously well-made triumph that demands to be seen again and again. I’m overjoyed to give Booksmart an A+.