Director: Olivia Wilde
Year of release: 2019
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Superficial readings of Olivia Wilde’s film debut Booksmart will label it the “female version of Superbad”, seeing as it how it focuses on two high school best friends who experience one wild night before graduation, but the similarities mostly end there. Truthfully, Booksmart is closer in spirit and tone to TV’s Broad City; a show about female friendship balancing grossness and sweetness in equal measure. What really sets Wilde’s impressive film apart from something like Superbad, however, is its undeniable affection for every person onscreen. While Greg Mottola’s R-rated 2007 movie felt smug and misogynistic, Booksmart uses gross-out comedy tropes while never becoming mean-spirited. This is a funny, heartwarming, and very cunning movie which uses the high school movie tropes of the 1980s, updates them for the Gen Z crowd, and then subverts expectations.
The film follows best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), both of whom are intense practitioners of A+ grades in hopes of getting into elite colleges. To say they don’t party is an understatement; as their idea of a bonafide rager is late night study sessions at the local library. Molly is the feisty class president, Amy is the more shy feminist with a crush on a skater girl, and their school principal is played by the dopey Jason Sudeikis, who nearly gets harassed by Molly into arranging a budget meeting with the juniors on the final day of class. Joined at the hip for the past 4 years, Molly and Amy realize that nearly every other student, even the long-haired stoner Theo (Eduardo Franco) are getting into Yale or Columbia. This realization sets off a series of events where the girls decide to spend the last night before graduating attending an epic party.
Booksmart features the requisite drunken debauchery, wacky hijinks, and R-rated grossness that we’ve come to expect from the genre, but because it features two characters we care about (Feldstein and Dever both deliver star-making performances here), the film always feels empathetic to its core. Meanwhile, Wilde’s direction is confident and ambitious, although she does take some chances that don’t quite pay off, such as a claymation drug-tripping sequence which feels like a separate Vimeo short film and an over-reliance on non-diegetic pop songs. Still, these flaws aren’t enough to detract from the fact that this is a female-centered story which is allowed to be vulgar without sacrificing its warm heart. In an ideal world, Booksmart would be the game-changing hit the vastly inferior Superbad was, if only to show that one can be really into both Ken Burns documentaries and beer pong.