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Review: Booksmart – “Witty, smart, funny and confident”

The high school experience is different for all of us. There are those that use it to socialize and party with academic success secondary to the goals of those overindulgent nights amongst friends. There are also those that view it simply as a stepping stone, a stop on the way to higher learning. Most likely fall somewhere in between, but the main characters of Booksmart have taken their high school experience to academic extreme.

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have done everything together through high school.  And by everything, it really means everything they could do to get into the college of their choice. Molly, having achieved admittance to Yale, is valedictorian and very serious student council president, even meeting with the principal (Jason Sudeikis) on the last day of school to go over the class budget.  Amy, who will be attending Columbia, is soon on her way to Botswana on a mission to help women.  The girls idolize feminist icons like Ruther Bader Ginsberg and Gloria Steinem. They’ve done all their homework. They’ve made an imprint on their school and are getting ready to embark on their already planned out journey to the real world, looking at those that used their time in high school to party with disdain.

But, when Molly discovers that those partiers in fact also gained admittance to some pretty prestigious schools, she realizes her and Amy missed out on the high school experience for their hyper-focused studying.  Together they embark on one night of pre-graduation parties in order to prove to themselves, and the rest of the class, that they aren’t really the one-dimensional girls they’ve been made out to be.  

Obviously, Booksmart isn’t the first film of its kind, nor is it even the first to focus on female characters.  However, it is a high school, coming of age film that seems to avoid a lot of the normal cliches that typically plague these types of movies.  Sure there’s a pool party, but the jock never pushes the nerd into the water to get laughs from the rest of the popular crowd, bullies aren’t pushing kids into lockers.  The class here is diverse and feels more real. They aren’t all Mean Girls, and while one character could surely be considered a Clueless type, she still socializes with the rest of the kids.  Booksmart is a film existing in and written for 2019, where its characters can be feminist,  openly gay with acceptance, and incredibly diverse all without fear of alienating those on screen or in the audience.  It’s utterly refreshing and comes at the hands of its all women writing team consisting of Katie Silberman, Sarah Haskins, Emily Halpern and Susanna Fogel.  

That doesn’t mean though that this film is devoid of talk about sex, love or even masturbation.  It just means it’s handled in a different way and with finesse from its stars.  The writers’ words are brought to life by the truly believable duo of Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (whose older brother, Jonah Hill rose to fame starring in another coming of age movie, Superbad).  Together these two young women bring you into an intimate friendship where everything is shared and no conversation is too embarrassing (almost).  Their on-screen chemistry and honest performance allows them to land all the intended laughs while keeping you involved in their characters.  They are a joy to watch.  Though it should be noted, Billie Lourd who plays the ever-present, always inebriated Gigi, steals every single scene she is in.  

Certainly, Booksmart was the perfect choice for Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut.  This story needed her touch to bring this amazing friendship to life.  The film pauses at just the right moments and in many parts, possesses more beauty than you would expect this type of movie to contain.  There is an underwater sequence that is joyfully breathtaking, only to break your heart once the surface is reached – a good metaphor, intended or not, for the reality that awaits Amy and Molly once they leave the safe confines of their school halls.  Wilde displays a talent for filmmaking that simply becomes more evident as the film progresses. 

Booksmart is not necessarily the most original premise, but its delivery is what makes it a unique presence.  It’s a truthful depiction of female friendship at a time when you’re most vulnerable, on the precipice of great change.  It’s also witty, smart, funny and confident just like its two stars.  Together, the women behind Booksmart have managed to instil new energy into an often overdone and tired genre, creating a film likely to be watched and enjoyed on repeat by a variety of audiences who will find a piece of themselves up on screen.   

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