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Booksmart Review

May 27, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
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Booksmart Review  

Directed By: Olivia Wilde
Written By: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman
Runtime: 102 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking – all involving teens

Kaitlyn Dever – Amy
Beanie Feldstein – Molly
Molly Gordon – Annabel/Triple A
Mason Gooding – Nick Howland
Victoria Ruesga – Ryan
Skyler Gisondo – Jared
Eduardo Franco – Theo
Billie Lourd – Gigi
Diana Silvers – Hope
Jessica Williams – Miss Fine
Jason Sudeikis – Principal Brown
Will Forte – Doug Antsler
Lisa Kudrow – Charmaine Antsler

Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut in the raucous, outrageous, coming-of-age story Bookmart. It’s the last day of high school for Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever). Molly is class president, valedictorian and gearing up for an illustrious collegiate career at in Yale. Amy is equally studious and getting ready to spend the summer doing activism work in Botswana. They are as close as friends can be and nothing can tear them apart.

However, Molly gets a shock to the system on her last day of school. Overhearing some bullying banter from the class slackers in the school bathroom, including the queen bee “Triple A” (Gordon), Molly rightfully defends her studious reputation, noting that she put her school time to good use to set herself up for later in life, while the slackers she looks down upon will peak in high school. Except, the so-called slackers who spent most of their time running wild and partying during their four years of high school all have impressive colleges, scholarships or cushy corporate jobs.

Molly has an epiphany, realizing that she and Amy did not have enough fun times or go to any parties in high school. It’s time to make up for that by spending a wild night out at the pre-graduation party being thrown by Nick (Gooding), the school’s star jock and the subject of Molly’s crush. Not to mention, Ryan (Ruesga), the classmate Amy is crushing on, will also be there. With one day left to graduation, it’s time for these best friends to put it all on the line and party like never before.

The real triumph of Booksmart is the relationship between Molly and Amy. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein’s performances are impeccable. They really make this pair feel like a genuine friendship. Their adventure throughout this film is really one that tests their bond. Dever and Feldstein are great leads. They’re funny, charming and charismatic. Both performer’s acquit themselves very well as lead performers, and they have great chemistry as they go through numerous misadventures.

To the film’s credit, the writers and director Olivia Wilde do not drag out the journey to the party. There are certainly some comical misadventures, but the party becomes a whole section of its own for the film. Then Booksmart builds up to an entirely new climactic act.

The supporting cast also shares some interesting surprises of its own. While the challenge to Amy and Molly’s friendship is the highlight of the film, there are some interesting subplots with the supporting cast, such as the seemingly stereotypical “mean girl,” Triple A, as she’s nicknamed by Molly and Amy.

Typically, a character like Triple A is the villain or antagonist of this story. Either that, or there’s an unlikable jock in this type of comedy. Instead, the film shatters that type of image of the hot girl being a dumb, airheaded, promiscuous bimbo who isn’t smart enough, or only gets through life easily being rich.

This can also be seen through a character like the rich kid in school, Jared (Gisondo). Jared is rich and seems to have everything you could want in life, but at one point Molly and Amy go to Jared’s party ahead of graduation day, and there is really no one there. Jared attempts to use his wealth to bribe people’s friendship and to look cool because he knows no other way. These elements make characters like Jared and Annabel (the aforementioned “Triple A”) more than just cookie cutter characters or high school comedy stereotypes.

What was fascinating about Booksmart is that it not only shines a light on the prejudices and misconceived perceptions that the “cool” kids in school have on the smart kids, Amy and Molly; it’s vice versa for the smart kids with the cool kids. The cool kids have their own quirks and flaws. They are real people with feelings, who are fighting against others’ preconceptions towards them. This is one of Booksmart’s greatest strengths.

The younger roles in the cast are portrayed by new faces, which is refreshing. Wilde utilizes recognizable veteran comedians in some key adult roles. Jason Sudeikis is excellent as a tragically humorous principal, who pops up again later in a way that’s both hilarious and socially relevant. Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte don’t have hugely significant roles, but they make the absolute most of their screen time as Amy’s doting, religious parents.

In terms of Olivia Wilde’s direction, she does a good job with her first feature directorial outing. Booksmart definitely has a bit of a pop-indie edge and style to it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. One of the film’s funniest sequences is an animated drug-induced hallucination that was both surprising and funny. However, some of the montage sequences are repetitive. And while the film does such a good job of subverting a lot of typical high school comedy tropes, it tends to follow some very predictable beats in others. The basic plot is pretty much the tried and true raucous night out, comedic adventure film.

Overall, Booksmart finds a winning combination with some great acting and character work. While the basic plot is repetitive, the performances by Feldstein and Dever really elevate the material, along with some refreshing takes by breaking away from convention with some of the supporting characters. This is an entertaining comedy with an incredibly talented cast that’s worth a look.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Booksmart follows a lot of familiar plot beats and conventions, but the characters and performances are what really win this film over. Olivia Wilde has a clear vision with her first film, making the lead characters and their friendship feel real, as well as the supporting cast, in some surprising places.