Booksmart is a fun film, full of energy, that easily sits alongside a number of other teen comedies from the past few decades. Unlike many of those, it was directed and written by women, and also features two wonderful female lead characters (played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever).
The set-up is quite simple. Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) have made a number of sacrifices as they aim to get the grades required for their favoured colleges. But Molly hears a number of people talking about their future plans, which leads her to the realisation that a lot of people had the same aim, they just managed to maintain a better life-work balance throughout high school. Determined to use their last night to make up for years of missing out, Molly and Amy set out to find the location of the hottest party being attended by everyone else in their school year. And so begins a night that will see the young women test their limits, test some drugs, and test their friendship.
Although very much female-centric, Booksmart works brilliantly because it is very much focused on the teen experience, the years spent under intense pressure to please so many people (peers, parents, teachers) before you learn that it's best to just please yourself. Molly and Amy start the movie thinking that they have to live their lives a certain way, which becomes less and less true as they become more comfortable just being themselves.
The script, written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman, is arguably the best work that any of them have done. It's smart, full of scenes that have an honesty at the heart of them, and very funny. And one sequence involving a pair of Barbie dolls is hilariously surreal in a way that recalls the anarchic silliness of Better Off Dead... (an '80s teen movie that remains woefully underseen).
Olivia Wilde does a great job in her feature directorial debut. She has a number of shorts to her credit, and has obviously been able to observe the film-making process during her many acting jobs, but this is an accomplished and assured first feature, undoubtedly helped by her industry connections (it's hard to imagine the likes of her partner, Jason Sudeikis, or Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow taking on supporting roles otherwise, although you could also argue that a good enough script would have won them over).
Feldstein and Dever are great in their roles, with the former bringing more of the energy into most scenes while the latter is having a more difficult time adjusting to a new level of social interaction and self-identity. Molly Gordon does great work in her small role, Skyler Gisondo and Billie Lourd are wonderfully over the top as two rich kids who find it easy to buy company, but not so easy to make real friends, and Diana Silvers has a couple of very funny scenes as a partygoer who ends up seeing Dever in a more vulnerable state than either would have wanted, and Jessica Williams gets to play a supercool teacher who is rooting for our leads throughout.
Although this is typically rambunctious stuff on the surface, Booksmart excels, like all of the best teen movies, because there's a lot more to it. And a large part of it is truth. As silly as many moments seem, it also nails the maelstrom of feelings that can rush through any teenager's mind every time a major decision has to be made. That decision could be about higher education, or it could about what to wear to a party. It could be about love or lust, or it could be about how far you go to support a friend. Every one is just as important as the other. Well, that is how it feels at the time. Booksmart nails that feeling, and more.
The movie will be available here.
Americans can get it here.