“Every generation needs representation and ‘Booksmart’ is a solid addition to the canon of teen films.”
Being accepted into a university, let alone ‘Ivy League’ can require years of preparation. But imagine dedicating every waking moment to the pursuit of education, only to find out your slacker classmates (who have never sacrificed a social calling) will attend equally prestigious colleges? That’s exactly where two lifelong friends find themselves in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, ‘Booksmart’. This whacky comedy goes for the fail-safe blunder-year belly laughs, but it also distinguishes itself by spotlighting themes of feminism, LGBTQ liberation and the rarely displayed accuracies of life as a young woman.
Panning over a morning-lit bedroom in the opening scene, a self-help audio book narrates as Molly (Beanie Feldstein, Jonah Hill’s real-life sister) meditates on the floor. The voice has just instructed her to picture every person that has ever looked down on her, and without warning — setting the stage for the spontaneous humor throughout the film — the voice adopts a savage tone and shouts, “Fuck those losers!” while Molly symbolically removes her retainer. There’s a strong chance that ‘Superbad’ (2007) will cross your mind given the similar end-of-year party storyline that involves two co-dependent high school seniors, but that’s really where the similarities end. ‘Booksmart’ not only flips the script with gender reversals and less surface-level bonding, it includes more diverse characters, visual creativity and impressively paced storytelling.
It’s obvious Wilde wasn’t afraid to explore bold new ways to craft points of view with her confident directing style – especially the experience of taking drugs. In one of the most hysterical moments, Molly and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) become disoriented and wake up believing they are dolls. The audience is taken along for the ride too, witnessing their transformation into barbie-like figures. The witty commentary on their unrealistic proportions as they stare into the mirror is superb.
The adventurous switching of gears to animation was a refreshing change and a smart risk worth taking on Wilde’s part. And not to shortchange the smart casting, there are no weak links in this picture. Filled with comedians like Lisa Kudrow and Jason Sudeikis, one can only assume their acting skills set a tenor for Feldstein and Dever. Their chemistry is incomparable to any predecessors in the coming-of-age genre in recent years, and this combined with the unapologetically sassy, intelligent script is the reason this film stands on its own.
‘Booksmart’ is a rowdy, loud ride in a flamed charger. It’s unique in the way that it features a main character that just happens to be gay, but also doesn’t make that the central focus of the story. Every generation needs representation and ‘Booksmart’ is a solid addition to the canon of teen films.