Every once and a while a movie comes out from a genre that’s commonplace and often filled with dull clichés, and reminds you why that genre was so great and necessary, to begin with. Such is the case with Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart. This teenage coming-of-age-story about two best friends embracing their reckless, fun side is an absolute treasure. Wilde’s slick direction coupled with an irreverently charming script, with engaging characters – by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman – makes Booksmart one of the most refreshing movies of the year. It’s raucous, stylish and fun, without ever losing its sincerity.
Best friends Molly and Amy (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) are high-school seniors who have prioritized academics at the expense of social activities. They justify their choice by believing it will put them ahead of their peers when it comes to college admissions. However, they are shocked to discover that their partying, fun-loving classmates have also got into great universities. They partied and studied. Subsequently, Molly and Amy decide to indulge their wild side and complete their high-school experience by attending the big year-end party. In pursuing the main party and their respective crushes, Molly and Amy navigate the complexities of love and friendship, while also getting to better understand their classmates outside of school.
The “one crazy night” premise has been depicted on screen many times before, typically following characters getting into increasingly absurd situations. Booksmart doesn’t try to break the formula. Instead, it effectively uses the wacky situations to peel back the layers on various characters and relationships. Every wild event Molly and Amy go through is not just funny and entertaining. Each situation also provides more insight into their personalities and desires or better-defines the classmates they’ve previously misjudged. Whether it’s a relationship with a favourite teacher or a hilarious encounter with a pizza delivery man, every interaction has a purpose or pay-off. And even the most bizarre scenarios never become overly gratuitous because there is always some honest truth brought up. The emotional bits work just as well as the humorous ones
At the heart of the film is Molly and Amy’s devoted friendship. Feldstein and Dever’s bring these characters to life with their effusive chemistry. Molly’s more opinionated and direct personality amusingly plays off Amy’s unsure awkwardness. It’s refreshing to see the weird eccentricities in female friendships displayed, as much as the affection and support. Even though the pair are considered to be nerdy and disciplined, they are not quiet, overly-righteous or dull either. They swear, do weird dances, and make raunchy jokes, all in a casual manner. The writers don’t confine them to singular, outdated labels. Molly and Amy are allowed to be vulgar and often judgemental while remaining endearing. If anything, the film could have made use of their geeky side a tad more.
Moreover, Booksmart defies several teen-movie clichés through its appealing and well-utilized supporting characters. The main classmates are more than just one-note characters with brief, but forgettable, contributions. They actually offer a variety of interesting representations of high school kids and leave an impression on Amy and Molly. We’re initially introduced to the school kids as seemingly stock characters. We have the jock, popular girl, and rich kid, among others. But, over the course of the story, they disrupt preconceived expectations.
As Molly and Amy prove that academic kids are not boring, the partying kids also challenge their stereotypical reputation of being mean and dim-witted. The movie attempts to question the misconceptions of high-school teens and succeeds for the most part. However, the partying students’ smarts and skills are things we’re just briefly told, but not actually shown adequately. At least the film never tries to condemn their lifestyles. Everyone’s allowed to be messy, complicated and wonderful in their own way. The whole cast is fantastic too.
Booksmart is also propelled by some imaginative humour and wonderfully stylized execution. Whether it’s the ridiculous situational humour or the quirky dialogue, the comedy consistently feels fresh. Wilde’s playful direction also creates some unique moments of amusement like the drug-incited claymation scene and the daydream dance sequence. As a bonus, the soundtrack – featured often, but effectively – is fantastic.
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is effortlessly engaging and relevant. She and the writers have managed to create a teen movie about friendships, love and life – the conventional topics – that still feels original and exciting, due to their modern sensibilities. Led by Feldstein and Dever’s palpable charisma, Booksmart is one of the most entertaining experiences of the year.