If I rattled off the synopsis of Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, you’ll probably think you’ve seen it a million times over. Two graduating high school girls set out to finally break the rules and party on their last day of classes. Teenage hijinks ensue. Drugs, drinking, sex…well, yeah, all of that fun stuff happens. But to simply call this the “female Superbad” is a serious injustice because quite honestly, Booksmart destroys mostly every other coming-of-age eve-of-graduation movie there is.
Amy and Molly are the two high school gal-pals in question, played by Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird), respectively. Once Molly overhears some kids taking her to task in the bathroom, she bites back by telling them that while they were out being degenerate high school party-kids, she was solidifying her future by getting into an academically slamtastic college. The rubbing it in their face-plan backfires when she finds out they also got into good schools and had the times of their lives while doing so. And so Molly convinces Amy to go party-hopping on their final night as seniors pulling the high school equivalent of Jim Carrey in Yes, Man so they can party their goddamn faces off.
It sounds pretty trite, but I’ll be goddamned if Booksmart doesn’t wind up being one of my top movies of the year because it’s just that special. Dever and Feldstein concoct an on-screen chemistry that makes you think they were actually childhood friends (Wilde actually forced the two to live together while filming). The two actresses are so natural, charming, and funny, catching the audience off-guard in almost every scene and supporting each other like the BFF you always wished you had instead of that lovable idiot you’ve known since grammar school who always lets you down. Their performances are layered and have incredible depth, helped by the fact that the characters are so well-written on the page.
Booksmart doesn’t play with tropes because it’s a movie so well-rooted in the here and now. You could call it the Can’t Hardly Wait for today’s generation, but it outsmarts and out-runs every single teen high school movie there is. Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman, every single character that surrounds Amy and Molly is three-dimensional and diverse proving that old Breakfast Club stereotypes are dead and done. Amy’s journey of getting comfortable with her own sexuality (she’s gay, btw, which isn’t that big of a deal in Booksmart) may just be beginning for her, but she takes huge strides in putting herself out there and building her confidence…just like any character of any sexuality at that age would.
The supporting cast members each add their own special brand of quirk and dysfunction to the script. Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte play Amy’s parents who work overtime to be “cool” with Amy’s homosexuality despite being sliiiightly uncomfortable with it. Their love for their daughter shines through, though the parentals are convinced that Molly is Amy’s girlfriend, which Molly uses to her advantage to make them feel even more nervous and awkward around her.
Jason Sudeikis plays the already-checked-out principal-turned-Lyft driver who’s pretty sick of Molly’s shit, and Billie Lourd turns up as Gigi, an unpredictable drugged-up party girl who pops up everywhere to create havoc and push the girls farther outside their comfort zones.
Though it’s a coming-of-age comedy, Booksmart follows no rules or former films; rather, it paves its own way with originality, complex characters and situations, and the element of hysterical surprise. It’s inclusive and progressive without pushing an overtly obvious agenda. Sure, there are plenty of youthful feels to go around, but rarely does a movie about teenagers feel so real and relatable. In their quest to dispel the possibility of regret, they fumble their way through the night making a slew of mistakes despite good intentions. There’s nothing more kindred to the teenage human experience than that. Grade: A