Booksmart takes the essentials of a rowdy, raunchy high school comedy and flips them, though it would be a disservice to suggest this is simply by putting girls in the driver’s seat. It’s much more nuanced than that – a deliberate collision of universal stories, specifically female experiences and lovingly nurtured tropes. And it’s very, very funny.
Lady Bird‘s Beanie Feldstein beautifully realises Molly: bold, bullish and insecure as she comes to the sudden realisation that she’s forgotten to have fun. But it’s Kaitlyn Dever’s soft-spoken nerd Amy that quietly steals the show as the sensitive sexual awakening storyline is handed to – miracle of miracles! – a happy lesbian. The extra dimension of trying to work out not only if her crush is interested in her, but if they’re interested in girls in general, is handled with care and great tact. But it’s the deep, unabashed and intentionally performed relationship between the two leads that brings the whole together, punctuated overtly as ‘Unchained Melody’ plays out over a particularly touching scene.
Packed with pleasingly bizarre flights of fantasy, Olivia Wilde’s debut directorial effort is kinetic and exhilarating; perhaps it gets a little distracting at times, but the essential downbeats are well timed. The script screams self-awareness, but thankfully stays very much on the right side of it – so that even though the class of 2019 are very much of the moment, they earn lasting relevance.
This brash and anarchic comedy is refreshing not just because it is female-centred but because of its honesty. By replacing wish fulfilment with something much more powerful – getting what you didn’t know you needed – Booksmart cleverly balances full-body cringes with full-hearted affection. And that’s something pretty special.
CAST: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis
DIRECTOR: Olivia Wilde
WRITERS: Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katherine Silberman, Emily Halpern
SYNOPSIS: A pair of teenage girls realise they’ve missed out on crucial rites of passage by dedicating themselves to academic work – so set off for one wild night of partying before they graduate high school.