Review: Booksmart

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I do not own any of these images - via IMDB.com

Booksmart released on May 27th 2019 Directed by Olivia Wilde, Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Molly Gordon, Skylar Gisondo, Eduardo Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Jessica Williams

Official synopsis:

On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends 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.

At the very beginning of the film, straight a-star student and over-achiever Molly (Beanie Feldstein) overhears cool-kids-who-seemingly-don’t-care-about-school critiquing her hard-working personality. She decides to deliver an impressive comeback, predicting her bright future at an Ivy League School while they struggle to find work. In most films, this would be a triumphant moment: a ‘nerd’ standing up to the ‘bullies’ - instead, Molly discovers that their academic futures are actually just as bright as hers - one is even going straight to Google. Her assumptions are brutally crushed in a humbling manner: this shocking revelation prompts Molly and her best friend Amy to make up for 4 years of non-partying in a single night before graduation.

Olivia Wilde’s R-rated directional debut Booksmart refreshes the traditional coming-of-age formula in a fast-paced, inclusive and sensitive way. With an all-female writing team, the witty and strong script is endearing and impossible not to enjoy, brought to life effortlessly by a cast of new, fresh-faced talents.

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Wilde approaches long-established coming-of-age themes and adolescent tropes with a frank honesty and sensitivity, which gives Booksmart that fresh feeling. It subverts many high-school cliches and depicts a more realistic and present-day world by normalising it. It explores the friendship of the two leads at diverging paths, eventually revealing their own insecurities and the ones of those around them as masks begin to drop. Any assumptions they had made about their classmates are eradicated sooner or later through touching dialogue or visual storytelling (such as the pool sequence): stereotypes are deconstructed as each character is revealed to be complex and three dimensional. It’s an ode to high-school friendships, to the emotional, scary yet exciting time at the cusp of adulthood.

That fresh feeling also comes from the fact that it is two female leads who experience the wild party related antics usually reserved for male characters on screen: (accidental) drug taking and ensuing tripping, watching porn, 1st sexual experiences and more. For this alone, it’s undeniably a feminist and perhaps revolutionary coming-of-age film. (Disclaimer: I have yet to see last year’s Blockers which popped up in most Booksmart reviews).

One of the most refreshing elements of Booksmart is Amy, an inexperienced lesbian whose narrative is normalised and given as much attention as a straight character’s journey:

It shouldn’t feel this refreshing in 2019 to see two teenage girls talk about sex so freely, and awkwardly, but there’s a raw, untempered quality to the dialogue that feels quietly revolutionary. This is also reinforced by the film’s comfortability with Amy’s queerness, a rare mainstream portrayal of a young lesbian coming to terms with her burgeoning sexuality, as revelatory and as confusing as the journey faced by her straight peers, just as it should be portrayed. Benjamin Lee for The Guardian

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Booksmart, like its heroines, is complex: it is funny, heartfelt, happy, surprising and sad. The script and the two leads are the pillars of the comedic success. The chemistry between Dever and Feldstein is marvellous: we do truly believe that the two have been best friends for years as the two bounce jokes back and forth so effortlessly. Just like the comedic side, the anger and resentment that unravels between the two at the crux of the film is equally impressive and agonizing to watch.

Wilde puts Dever and Feldstein on the map and cements them among the new generation of acting talents, and Billie Lourd delivers a truly memorable and scene-stealing performance that will only continue to project her into new, exciting projects that I cannot wait to watch. I also look forward to Olivia Wilde’s future projects after such an impressive and strong directional debut.

Summer