Within the last decade the high-school-teen-comedy has seen its share of notable titles released, some arguably considered the finest examples of the genre since John Hughes’ work in his 1980’s heyday. Whether it was Jonah Hill and Michael Cera venturing out for the night of their lives in Superbad, Emma Stone branding herself a faux scarlet woman in Easy A, Saoirse Ronan hoping to better herself as Ladybird, or Nick Robinson’s coming out in Love, Simon, audiences have had their share of quality to relate to, and with Booksmart they’ve arguably found their best yet.
Centred around a duo of life-long besties – Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) – who focused so hard on making it into prestigious colleges that they voided their high school existence of any source of fun (i.e. partying), only to discover that their supposed slacker classmates who seemingly wasted their time partying also got into Ivy League schools (Harvard, Wharton, Yale, etc), Booksmart is a riotous 105 minutes that’s consistently hilarious, oft-heartfelt, and never at a loss in depicting the truth despite the outlandish situations that ultimately befall our endearing leads.
A product where the sum of all its parts are just as strong and important as each other, Booksmart‘s initial shining beacons are that of Dever and Feldstein. From the opening moment where Molly awkwardly dances as she exits her home, only to be matched by Amy outside her vehicle, the dynamic chemistry formed between the two is at once instant and organic. Quiet, more meticulous, and slightly reserved, Dever’s Amy is the think-first, act-later push to Feldstein’s fierce and commanding pull. Intelligent, progressive, and incredibly witty, the two display such confidence in their work, which proves not only a benefit to audiences from an entertainment point-of-view but as strong, relatable role models to teenagers who will hopefully turn out in droves to witness this modern-day masterpiece.
Similar to the aforementioned Superbad, Booksmart‘s night of debauchery for Amy and Molly – the two opting to cram in a high-school’s life worth of partying into one night in their finest effort to prove to their peers that they are just as fun and loose – takes place over a few short hours, but the impeccably tailored script manages to leave no shortage of wild and hilarious set-pieces for the girls to experience. As entertaining as these sequences prove to be though – a “party” aboard a luxury boat, a murder mystery themed event with far-too-committed players, and a pizza delivery car robbery that goes horribly off plan, just a slew of the activities for the evening – it’s the wide array of characters involved in said pieces that truly liven the proceedings.
If it isn’t the off-kilter mixture of ethereal and insane found within Gigi (a firing on all cylinders Billie Lourd), an impossibly popular high-schooler with a penchant for showing up at any and every given moment like a coked-up spirit in the wind, it’s George (Noah Galvin), the flamboyant and intense theatre student whose elaborate murder mystery party sets the scene for one of Booksmart‘s most outrageous moments where Molly and Amy fall victim to drug-laced strawberries (thanks Gigi!) and hallucinate themselves as a duo of dolls fascinated by the mechanics of their unrealistic proportions. Outside of the teenage characters (which also includes an incredibly sweet yet delusional Skyler Gisondo as the douchebag-on-the-outside, sweetheart-on-the-inside Jared) Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis earn brief though nonetheless precious minutes as Amy’s parents and the school principal respectively, similarly injecting themselves into stand-out sequences, one involving an Uber ride between Sudeikis, Dever and Feldstein that is a painful example in reminding your driver that not everything on your phone needs to be blue-toothed.
Of course, as committed as each of these players are, it’s the collaborative writing talents of Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman that have crafted the genius work on hand. Whilst the film plays into the mentality of overt sex humour and heavy profane material, the moments on offer never feel undermined by these ingredients. Our expectations are constantly subverted throughout as the film displays a sense of maturity that’s so often missing from teenage-aimed films where sex and scandal are its main driving factors. Then there’s Olivia Wilde steering this ship with a poise and confidence akin to an experienced director, let alone an actress making her debut. Wilde balances the more thought-provoking segments and the absurdity without so much as missing a beat, and the neon soaked flare utilised evokes an indie film vibe that proves a welcome contrast to its mainstream temperament.
Honestly I can’t praise this film enough. As easy as it is to deem it unoriginal due to its framework, Wilde’s strength in honing both the visual and comedic language of the story, as well as its relatable depiction of emotional and sexual growth for its characters, results in a fresh spin on a genre so often bogged down under a gross-out personality. Undoubtedly one of this year’s best, I implore audiences to use their smarts and see this film instantly. And then see it again.