Review: Booksmart (2019)

Booksmart

Rating

Director

Olivia Wilde

Screenplay

Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman

Length

1h 42min

Starring

Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga, Austin Crute, Noah Galvin, Mike O’Brien

MPAA Rating

R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking – all involving teens

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Soundtrack

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Review

In the 1980s, teen comedies were lighthearted John Hughes films about fabulous teens with lovable quirks finding safety and comfort in each other against aggressive authority figures who want them to fall into non-threatening molds. Booksmart takes a more modern approach to the teen comedy and does so with drop-dead funny moments and genuine heart-provoking situations.

Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are seniors ready to move on to Ivy League Colleges having spent their high school tenure studying hard to make it in to the schools they wanted while the rest of their classmates screwed around and had fun. As they are about to graduate, a stark revelation about how their efforts haven’t gotten them ahead of their partying fellow students forces the pair to decide that they will make their last days their best and let loose for a change.

Both Feldstein and Dever are painfully awkward in their interactions, a throwback to the nerds of 1980s comedies. They are socially inept and disdainful of their fun-loving peers. As that veneer of assertive confidence crumbles, their rock solid friendship teeters on the brink of collapse.

While Hughes-equivalent teenagers would have been modestly awkward and aware of their academic excellence, he would have made them embarrassed by being smart and excelling rather than proud of their accomplishments. What Amy and Molly lack in social graces, they more than make up for in confidence, which allows each to delude themselves about who they and those around them really are.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a whip-smart comedy that holds back no punches as it explores the expectations and realities of high School life. From the screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman, Wilde elicits copious laughs while riffing on the life of the socially inept. The authenticity of the characters and situations emerges from the zany hijinks with clarity and focus.

We’re not just watching a farce of high school life, we’re watching a duo of flawed and self-conscious individuals face the truth about themselves and the world around them. It’s the kind of honesty that John Hughes’ films never quite captured. Sure, his films had a great deal to say about teenagers in the 1980s, but the superficial veneer of those characters was one of the reasons they only partially resonated.

Feldstein and Dever not only have fun with the material, they make characters that are exceedingly relatable, at least if you knew them or were them in high school. Performances this clever and self-aware are a rarity from young actors. Both show an amazing range of talent from madcap zaniness to emotional explosiveness and both are destined for greater roles in the future.

Booksmart is that rare modern teen comedy that delivers laughs and harsh truths with equal tenacity. Wilde’s first film is a spectacular one and her prospects have never been more assured, much like her directorial capabilities.

Review Written

January 14, 2020

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