Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut ‘Booksmart’ is a sharply witty coming-of-age comedy

The premise of the film is two graduating high school best friends set out to party on the last day of school. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein)  have concentrated on studying and have consciously left all partying and other high school experiences, which are classic to American teen comedies, so they can get into prestigious universities.

The film starts with Molly’s world coming crashing down when she realises that the other students who have partied are also getting into the same universities she is. The realisation that they have missed out on teen experiences and partying hits the girls hard and thus they become set on attending the end-of-year party held by the popular guy at school, Nick (Mason Gooding). I will not spoil the film but their journey to the party is eventful and it seems like the girls are set out to experience everything they can in one night, accidentally or on purpose.

Booksmart is a fresh take on the classical American coming-of-age comedy. This age-old, trope-fueled genre of high school comedies has been seen so many times and very few can add anything new to the vast selection and because of that I have to give kudos to the screenplay written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman.

Kaitlyn Denver and Beanie Feldstein as Amy and Molly

The film holds a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes which is quite unconventional for these kind of films. What works the best is the chemistry between the lead actors Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) and Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12, Beautiful Boy). The film also passes the Bechdel test (two women in fiction who talk to each other about something other than a man) which is always refreshing.

In my opinion, what stands out is the fact that as much as the film still plays with the traditional American high school stereotypes; they play as something to be debunked. The film gently teaches the lesson of not judging your peers by appearance or their social categories. One of the early lines of the film comes from Molly’s peer who says: “I’m incredible at hand jobs, but I also got a fifteen-sixty on the SATs”; an indication that this is not to be a slut shaming fest and no matter what else you do you can still be academically successful.

Booksmart has a lot of smart dialogue and these short, fast and sharp lines about trusting stereotypes. As much as this film is targeted towards young women, I hope it reaches a wider audience because it really is good. America pushes out so many raunchy teen comedies that it might get lost in the midst and two female stars will not make it easier for the film. It holds the same elements as the others (sex, drinking, drugs and other shenanigans) but it has new nuances and for the longest time there has not been a teen comedy that can do that.

I am happy to inform the queer viewers that Amy is a lesbian. When the film starts, Amy has been out for two years. It is refreshing to see queer people on screen that are already out as much as it is good to see coming out stories. The latter seems to be the medium for most LGBT characters and those stories are most often melancholic or even sad. In these stories, the characters are not very multifaceted and being gay is the only personality aspect to them. Many times the story line also includes homophobia and self-hate.

Billie Lourd (American Horror Story, Scream Queens) as Gigi

As a side note I want to emphasise that the film has a few gay characters and is not only limited to Amy (finally more than one gay can exist at the same time, hurrah!). In Booksmart Amy is established as queer and it is treated the same way as Molly who is straight; no emphasis on it at all. Both girls have a crush on someone and those story lines are treated equal. Having said this, despite them pursuing their crushes, the main love story of the film is between the two best friends and as it belongs, it is being tested throughout the night.

Molly is so blinded by her quest to experience everything in one night that she is forgetting that life is not about her and she cannot just make her best friend by extension do everything she orders her to do. This causes schism between the girls and ultimately this tension explodes; secrets are being revealed and both of them say things that they regret in the end. In a true manner of the teen comedy, those ruptures in the friendship will be fixed and all is good in the world again.

They have written on Booksmart’s own web page that the film is ”told from a wildly original, fresh and modern perspective, Booksmart is an unfiltered comedy about high school best friends and the bonds we create that last a lifetime. Capturing the spirit of our times, the film is a coming of age story for a new generation” and that is what it is, they have fulfilled their promise and they have set a high level for this generations teen comedies. If you want to watch a refreshing teen comedy, which is progressive and funny, this is the film for you. I would hope all coming-of-age comedies were like this, in its own genre it is a masterpiece.

Booksmart is in cinemas right now.

Kaitlyn Denver and Beanie Feldstein as Amy and Molly

Related posts