Review: ‘Booksmart’ Is A Hilarious, Generation-Defining High School Comedy

Booksmart
Image Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

Beanie Feldstein has a pretty intimidating Bane voice that she shows off in Booksmart. A whip-smart, hyper-kinetic high school party movie from first time director Olivia Wilde. Her character, Molly, treats every opportunity with the same tenacity. She and her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), have but one night to find an epic party, before graduation. There is no time to only commit halfway on a Bane voice.

Molly’s a class valedictorian who barely knows her classmates. She has unwavering ambition to attend the university of her dreams, passing on every social event that might distract her from her vision. Molly and Amy are proud of their time in high school, until they see that the irresponsible kids in her class have also been accepted into prestigious universities.

First time director Olivia Wilde wears her influences on her sleeve. It’s clear she’s setting out to make her own version of The Breakfast Club or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Yet as the girls stumble from party to party, Booksmart plays more like a female updating of Superbad. Both capture the life and death stakes that high schoolers feel about popularity and perception. Similarly, they also dive into how friendships change during these transitional periods. Feldstein was excellent as the best friend in 2017’s Lady Bird, the most recent take on senior year happenings. Whereas Greta Gerwig focuses mostly on the relationship between a daughter and her parents, Wilde chooses to focus solely on two best friends.

Feldstein and Dever are stars in the making. In due time Molly and Amy will be mentioned in the same breath as Cady Heron or Cher Horowitz, as female protagonists who define a generation. The actresses have electric chemistry. They swap dialogue at rapid speeds and share the same mannerisms and facial expressions like any pair of best friends. The aimless geeks in Superbad are replaced with clever, ambitious feminists.

Amy is openly gay and the movie doesn’t feel obligated to show her coming out. Refreshing choices like these rarely done in modern Hollywood. The Los Angeles high school in Booksmart is picturesque in its diverse and tolerant student body. While schools all over the country might not be at that level yet, the portrayal is another indication of Wilde’s bold stamp on the genre. Classic archetypes of the skater, the jock, and the flirt are flipped on their head. Worn character tropes become more textured and multidimensional.

Booksmart
Credit: Annapurna Pictures / Francois Duhamel

Billie Lourd steals her scenes as the McLovin-esque wild card, that’s always in the middle of the action. Nearly every adult in the film, ranging from Jason Sudeikis to Jessica Williams to Lisa Kudrow, adds their own comedic style. The film’s crisp editing style draws out every drop of comedic juice from the performances. Wilde even adds a surreal touch with a dreamlike dance number. The only drawback is that when Molly and Amy finally fight over their situation, the argument feels predictable and forced.

Movies like Mean Girls and Clueless acquire strong cult followings even if they bomb at the box office. Booksmart premieres in theaters Memorial Day weekend, and it’s highly unlikely that this high school time capsule will be swept under the rug. Booksmart is a jolt of lightning, easily one of the most endearing and fun high school comedies in years. Before Feldstein stars in her next film, she might have more time to perfect her Bane voice. Something tells me, once this film opens, her free time will quickly evaporate.

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