2019, R, 105 mins.
Kaitlyn Dever as Amy / Beanie Feldstein as Molly / Mason Gooding as Nick / Skyler Gisondo as Jared / Victoria Ruesga as Ryan / Billie Lourd as Gigi / Molly Gordon as Annabelle "Triple A" / Jason Sudeikis as Principal Jordan Brown / Lisa Kudrow as Amy's Mother / Will Forte as Amy's Father
Directed by Olivia Wilde / Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman
BOOKSMART doesn't so much transcend and rise above high school teen comedy formulas as much as it does tap into its already well worn genre playbook, albeit with some nifty and fresh new refinements.
other examples that have come before it, this film delves into a storyline
of a couple of graduating social outcasts desperately trying to attain one
last night of debauchery and fun with the popular kids that have
previously shunned them. Nothing
in BOOKSMART reinvents the narrative and thematic wheel, but where it
scores huge qualitative points is in how stupendously well acted it is by
its two deeply attuned and assured leads on top of being smartly written.
That's what helps separate itself from a very overcrowded pack.
And how refreshing is it to see an ultra rare, hard R rated teen comedy written by women, directed by a woman, and featuring young women as the main stars?
represents the feature film directing debut of Olivia Wilde, whose
previous career acting on TV and in movies has obviously assisted her with
cultivating a performance centric approach to her rookie effort.
She not only crafts authentically rendered and lived in characters
to tell her storytelling, but she also infuses in BOOKSMART an honest
sense of understanding and compassion for the young women populating it.
So many teen comedies are witless and puerile exercises in
scatological bathroom gags and pratfalls of the lowest common denominator
that shamelessly use their adolescent characters as props in service of
its lewdness. That's not to say that BOOKSMART isn't crude (it earns its R
rating), but Wilde's overall approach here is decidedly wittier and
kinder, showing her characters as intelligent, self aware, and vulnerable
human beings struggling with the nagging uncertainties about their place
in the world. The film's
rampant vulgarity doesn't seem to overwhelm the more insular story of two
girls dealing with notions of their tight sisterhood being threatened by
upcoming adult responsibilities. Very
few comedies mix crassness and sweetness as well as BOOKSMART.
unlikely to find a more in synch comic tandem in a movie this year than
what Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever bring to the table, playing high
school BFFs that you immediately believe have spent a lifetime together in
each other's company. Not
only do they have instant, bankable chemistry and near pitch perfect comic
timing, but this dynamic duo also are able to adeptly navigate this film's
alternating tonal hemispheres, which usually segues from outright
goofiness in one scene to supreme and palpable distress in others. Plus,
they have this superb rat-ta-tat symmetry when it comes to harnessing
Wilde's shrewdly written dialogue exchanges.
Lesser actresses would have capsized this film, but Feldstein and
Dever are both a riotously funny and dramatically grounded pair of
The plot itself
here kind of coasts leisurely by on autopilot in terms of basic setup and
execution. Feldstein and
Dever play Molly and Amy respectively, two borderline hyperactive and
ferociously proud bookworms that have a shared fanatical drive to achieve
scholastic excellence over any other imperative.
Their singular driven goal in life is to get into the finest and
most prestigious colleges possible in fear of ending up in some low rent
and looked down upon community school that they believe most of their
irresponsible and hard partying fellow students will end up in.
One of the sneaky curveballs that BOOKSMART does throw at viewers
is the shock and dismay that Molly and Amy have when they discover that - GASP!
- their less high minded and rule breaking classmates have
miraculously managed to also get into colleges of high pedigree.
With their whole worldview of high school systematically destroyed,
Molly and Amy realize that they could have had proverbial good, partying
times alongside getting good grades, the former that they completely
avoided throughout their scholastic lives.
The two then make a pact to have one wild night of partying with
the other "cool" kids before they attend their graduation the
she's a first time director, Wilde acclimates herself well in terms of
homogenizing BOOKSMART's tricky material.
She not only has to deliver on this genre's requisite level of
crass misadventures (that most teen party films contain), but she also has
to traverse some thematically sobering subplots as well, like Molly and
Amy's staunch feminism and the latter's awakening gender identity.
Then there's Molly, who finds herself troublingly attracted to the
high school jock of her graduating class, which conflicts with her
intellectualism. One of the
pleasures, though, of Wilde's choices here is that she never tries to
aggressively make BOOKSMART a sermonizing message film that shoves its
ideas and themes down our throats. Instead,
she just presents the characters - regardless of orientation and
background - and lets them inhabit their story naturally and organically.
Amy's homosexuality isn't propped up and accentuated: She's
basically accepted and grounded in the narrative as normally as anyone
else. The sense of carefree
level of empathetic inclusion that this film maintains with its characters
is one of its absolute strengths.
does indeed embrace its outlandish silliness as a weird hybrid of SUPERBAD
(the male centric teen comedy that its obviously drawing inspiration from)
and AFTER HOURS. Molly and Amy find themselves thrust into many a precarious
situation throughout their shenanigans-laced evening, like being
incorrectly led to one wrong party address after another, one of which
includes a bizarre murder-mystery event hosted by the school's drama club,
or coming in contact with - in once instance - a jittery pizza delivery
man that may or may not be a serial killer.
They also hilariously encounter one of school's most eccentric
personalities in Gigi (Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher's daughter), who has a
ninja-like ability to show up at the most inopportune moment and
throughout multiple locations Molly and Amy find themselves occupying at
the drop of a dime. BOOKSMART
is also unafraid to embrace all out craziness, like in one truly wacky and
inspired sequence with the girls trippy badly on drugs, passing out, and
then awakening in a lurid hallucinogenic stop motion animated dream
sequence where there have assumed the bodies of naked Barbie dolls.
I love it when a film just, well, bizarrely goes for it and never
I do think, though, that Wilde does make a few rookie mistakes here and there that holds BOOKSMART back from achieving true genre greatness. Like so many other films of its ilk, this one doesn't really have much of a plot, but instead is consisted of a series of somewhat loosely interconnected vignettes that gives the story a freewheeling sense of reckless abandon, but sometimes not editorial discipline. Speaking of editing and style, Wilde certainly gives BOOKSMART a snazzy energy, and Jamie Gross's rapid fire editing accentuates the film's unconventional rhythm. Yet, there are moments throughout the film where it simply felt a bit too stylistically hyper-caffeinated for its own good, and some of the constant stream of music cues and beats perhaps over-telegraphed many dramatic and comedic scenes. Aesthetically, I would have appreciated a less-is-more approach to the material at times.
Still, Wilde certainly makes a strong claim here for being a filmmaker to watch out for moving forward, and BOOKSMART affectionately, sincerely, and frequently hilariously captures the insular world of high school friendship and ultra tight sisterhood and the challenges of being unpopular when pursuing academic excellence. It belongs on a short and recent list of good to superb female focused films about teenagers, like the underrated BLOCKERS and THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN to the Oscar nominated LADY BIRD and EIGHTH GRADE. And we desperately need more films of this class.