Booksmart: A Gut-Bursting Good Time
Olivia Wilde is making waves with her directorial debut, Booksmart, and for good reason, too: it’s an absolute blast! Filled with lovable characters, wild antics, and heart, Booksmart is the female driven comedy we’ve all been waiting for.
On the eve of their high school graduation, academic superstars and best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
The one thing that sucks a bit of air out from Booksmart’s sails is that we’ve seen a lot of what it has to offer before, and the things we haven’t quite seen before — which are relatively minor — can be easily predicted. However, nearly everything Booksmart does, it does well, and you can’t really fault it for that. Despite being fairly paint-by-numbers, it delivers hearty laughs and face-paced fun with confident swagger. It is very comfortable coloring in the lines, but it’s Booksmart’s occasional scribbling outside the lines that make it truly something special.
My biggest fear after glimpsing the trailer was that Booksmart would just be “Superad with chicks,” so I couldn’t be more pleased to find that statements such as that, which you’ll likely find through word of mouth or other written reviews, is nothing more than a gross oversimplification. Sure, Booksmart’s foundation and structure absolutely mirrors that of Superbad, but there are shades and aspects to the film that help to give it some separation from the beloved Rogen/Goldberg irreverent teen comedy — other than the gender reversal.
For starters, Booksmart isn’t really about sexual conquest and collective inebriation, which was Superbad’s modus operandi; it’s about two women who have spent their entire existence playing by the rules — and by proxy having zero fun — who come to the realization that their peers, most of which didn’t take school as seriously as them, were just as capable of getting into the same prestigious collegiate institutions as their hardworking play-by-the-rules selves. This catalyst to Amy and Molly’s outrageously entertaining adventure is already more substantive than Superbad’s Seth and Evan, the chemistry between the two lead actresses is just as strong. Also, the high school side characters are a more prominent fixture in Booksmart, both in terms of screen time and plot, and while every character operates within a cliché, I would argue that the side characters are pretty rounded and distinctive. Booksmart also tackles LGBT subject matter with overt objectivity and humanity, never judging characters for their lifestyle or using their lifestyle as a bullshitty means of narrative conflict.
One of the most astonishing things about the film to me is that there are four credited writers: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. I’m not sure if they all worked as a unit, or some of them wrote a draft, and then others came in and polished it up, but normally, when a lot of writers are credited, a film has a tendency to be overstuffed or unfocused and scattered; it can literally feel like the ideas between the litany of writers are at war within the story. However, that is not the case with Booksmart. It maintains a consistently sharp, witty, and outrageously fun focus for the entirety of its runtime. And while certain events can be predicted before they culminate on screen, there’s still a few minor curveballs that are thrown.
Olivia Wilde’s direction is fine, but it’s probably the least interesting aspect to the whole film. There’s not really a whole lot stylistically that she brings to her shot compositions or blocking that is groundbreaking or set her apart from anyone else. She overuses a lot of techniques, like slow motion entrances, and she doesn’t take many risks, but she finds the right way to capture key moments that feel true to the world and the characters. With her direction here, it’s all about how she works with the actors and gets them to give really great performances, which she does with deadly accuracy.
The icing on the cake is the performance from Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s sister). Their friendship is endearing, and more importantly, it feels authentic. Their chemistry is just as good (if not better) that Superbad’s Seth and Evan, and their back and forth exchanges are really wonderful. Booksmart is not a perfect film, and its Rotten Tomatoes score is a bit overblown; however, all of its pratfalls are minor and get trumped by the insanely fun and infectiously energetic experience it creates.
Recommendation: Absolutely check this one out. If you’re a fan of Superbad, Lady Bird, or Eighth Grade, this could be your new favorite coming-of-age comedy.
Rating: 4.5 slow motion entrances outta 5.
What do you think? Did you think Booksmart is the best comedy so far this year? Do you like Superbad more? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!