Booksmart is about busting taboos, showing us that a real person lurks behind the veneer of everyone you have ever judged.
The story is nothing new: two nerdy, desperately horny teenagers on the precipice of adulthood embark on an odyssey where they shake off a lifetime of hang-ups in one evening, gaining not only acceptance from their “cooler” peers but also strengthening their friendship and learning key life lessons along the way. However, in Olivia Wilde’s deliriously funny Booksmart, the two protagonists happen to be high school girls.
While similar movies from the past featuring male leads may include gay panic jokes and gross-out gags, Booksmart, much like our current generation of young people, is much more open-minded. Well, there are plenty of gross-out gags, but Booksmart is also about busting taboos, showing us that a real person lurks behind the veneer of everyone you have ever judged.
We meet Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) on the eve of their graduation from an ultra-privileged California high school. Sacrificing any fun for good grades and their teachers’ favor, the duo idolizes Ruth Bader Ginsburg and spend their nights together watching Ken Burns documentaries. Molly is heading to Yale after graduation, Amy to Botswana to help women gain access to feminine products. Molly is loud and controlling while Amy is demure, hiding her crush on a female classmate despite being out of the closet. None of their classmates really like them, especially class president Molly who enjoys flaunting her achievements to compensate for her less-than-cool social status.
The fun begins when Molly decides that they must attend a party being thrown by the class vice president, a fun-loving but dim boy who enjoys hitting things with his head. How could they possibly go off to college without enjoying the fruits of freedom that high school affords, at least for one night? There is just one problem: Molly and Amy don’t have the address for the party. In a world of cell phones, text messages and on-call Lyft drivers, our protagonists are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
If Booksmart sounds somewhat like Superbad (which starred Feldstein’s older brother, Jonah Hill), that’s because it hews close to the same narrative cloth. There are enough gross out moments to rival the older film, proving that girls can do it just as well as boys. Like Superbad, a sweetness exists beneath the vulgarity and both films are really about the unrecognized bond that exists between life-long friends. And while there is truly no substitute for McLovin, Wilde does populate her film with a handful of memorable, if somewhat underwritten, characters who make Molly and Amy’s journey into the night hilariously unforgettable. Among such supporting figures are hapless adults played by Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte.
The high school movie has come a long way since John Hughes first staked a claim on the territory in the ‘80s. Although the characters in films such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles still feel vividly alive, recent movies such as Eighth Grade and Lady Bird go deeper in addressing the insecurities and challenges that our current young people face. But rather than reduce people down to tropes, like lesser teenage movies have done, Booksmart shows us the human face behind each nerd, class clown, jock, bully, player and slut. The fact that Wilde can make us laugh while doing so shows that she has a brilliant career as a director ahead of her.