It’s impossible to like every genre of movie. There are just some stories that generally don’t connect with you, and which become fairly easy to write off as something that just won’t be for you. And, generally, I’ve found myself feeling next to no interest in movies about high school. High school just wasn’t an overly meaningful time for me, and our society’s need to fetishistic those four years generally just kind of seems strange to me. High school movies, specifically comedies that try to poke fun at the awkward experience of ending your adolescence, just generally all come off as being the same, telling the same anecdote and rarely scratching the surface of anything new and fresh to justify its existence, other than the fact that we apparently are always in need of new high school movies for the newest generation. So, when I heard surprisingly good things about a new high school-centric comedy, I decided to fight my initial skepticism and give it a shot. And, I’m really glad I could push past my curmudgeon ways and give this new film, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart, a shot, because I ended up having a really good time with it.
Booksmart follows two best friends, Amy and Molly, as they rapidly approach the end of their senior year of high school. They aren’t popular, but all of their dedication to their studies has paid off in the form of entry into some very prestigious colleges. However, as they’re preparing for the night before their graduation, they make a startling realization. The other students in the school who have been goofing off for the last four years, enjoying their lives, are also going to pretty great colleges, either through legitimate academic prowess or financial capabilities. So, Amy and Molly have essentially wasted four years, sacrificing social lives in order to get to the same place that their fellow students have. So, after having a mini-meltdown, Molly decides that they need to have a night of debauchery to make up for four years of scholarly restraint. Specifically, she wants Amy and herself to attend the party being thrown by the most popular guy in school, Nick. Amy is initially against it, but get pressured into giving it a shot in order to try and flirt with a girl named Ryan who she’s had a crush on. However, they run into a problem pretty quickly. Because they’re so unpopular they have no idea where the party is, or how to get there.
This leads to a journey all across this Southern California neighborhood, sending Amy and Molly on a series of insane adventures, all in the quest to finding the right party. They try to get help from a rich student they know named Jared, but he just ends up taking them to his own party, which no one is attending. They also end up at a completely different party that’s hosting a murder mystery dinner, where they end up tripping on some sort of psychedelic drug. But, they’re eventually able to find the address after getting it from a strange pizza delivery guy who has been supplying the party with pizza, and get a ride from a teacher of theirs who just wants to see them have a good time. And, finally, they get to the party, and find themselves actually able to infiltrate pretty well. Both girls have a good time with their crushes, and the night seems to be going well, until it all comes crashing down. Both of their crushes end up spurning them, and the pair get into a huge and public fight before the party gets raided by the police. Molly is able to escape and get home, but Amy ends up distracting the police so everyone else can escape, getting herself arrested. The next morning Molly heads to the jail to save her friend, despite their huge fight, and is able to get Amy out by offering information on a serial killer, who turns out to have been the pizza man they talked to earlier. So, the pair race to their graduation, where they’re lauded as heroes. And the film ends with the pair getting ready for the next stage of their lives, ready to grow and let their relationship change.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this film, primarily based on the frankly staggeringly positive response it was getting from people. On the surface, and certainly thanks to the trailer, it didn’t really seem like anything special, other than the fact that it looked like a pretty standard high school movie that featured on young women instead of young men. And, after you watch it, that still is kind of the vibe. There’s nothing overly groundbreaking about Booksmart, it deals with a lot of the same things that high school comedies have been focusing on for decades, but it’s just done with such skill and passion that you can’t help but be swept up by it. It’s a wonderfully funny movie, featuring a whole slew of truly talented young actors. The obvious stand outs are the two stars, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, who both knock it out of the park. I’ve seen both of these actresses in other things, but they really are fantastic in this movie, giving us two impossibly likeable characters who also feel like real people, which is a serious feat to accomplish in a highschool comedy, where people often just become stereotypes more than characters. But, the rest of the students are really great too, especially potential MVP Billie Lourd, who just appears throughout the film to my delight every time. And all of these amazing performances come together to create an incredibly funny film that really does end up hitting some emotional heights.
I frequently have seen this movie labeled, and perhaps dismissed, as “girl Superbad.” Which, is kind of what I figured it would end up being. Looking at the trailer it seemed like this movie was just about two oddballs who have decided to try and get laid before high school ended. And, in a way, that’s kind of what this film is. It’s a fairly standard high school comedy, but it’s all from the perspective of two young women, which sadly is a notable element since Hollywood still seems terrified to showing women’s sexuality in movies. But, beneath all of the gags and jokes, there is a really interesting bit of character dynamic in this film, which I also appreciated greatly in Superbad. Because this film is, at its heart, a story about two people who have spent years assuming that they’re odd and uncomfortable, realizing that everyone is odd and uncomfortable. Molly and Amy have kept themselves at a distance from everyone else during high school because they assumed that everyone else wasn’t like them, and that no one would understand them. They’re wracked with self-doubt and awkwardness, and look down on their classmates who seem comfortable in their own skin. And, by the end of the movie, they start to realize that no one is confident, and no one is comfortable in their own skin, especially in high school. They aren’t fully formed people, they’re still open for growth, and if they’re willing to make it clear that they’re willing to accept people for who they are, they can have all the friends they want.
Booksmart was written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman, directed by Olivia Wilde, and released by United Artists Releasing, 2019.
Categories: Reel Talk