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When Booksmart dropped onto my radar with the release of its first trailer a few months back, I was immediately excited by what I was seeing – a heartfelt ‘high-school comedy’ that centred on two leads who I kind of saw aspects of myself in. And let me just start by saying that this film well and truly smashed through those already high expectations, delivering a wholly enjoyable hour and forty-five minutes filled with nostalgia, hilarity and perhaps most importantly, a surprising amount of heart.
Considering the sheer amount of films out at the moment, this one might have just slipped under your radar – there’s a lot of hefty competition right now and hey, you’re only human. But I’m here to tell you (or more aptly, shout from the rooftops) that this film is more than worthy of your time and money so PLEASE consider giving it a chance.
In Booksmart, we follow Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two overachieving high school seniors who, on the eve of their graduation, come to the realisation that maybe, just maybe, adopting an ‘all work no play’ approach to their high school experience has led to some intentional yet ultimately unnecessary social sacrifices. Triggering this realisation is the fact that their fellow classmates have also been accepted into similar high-tier colleges – the difference being that they did so without sacrificing the ‘fun’ stuff, their grades or their social standing along the way.
“We haven’t done anything, we haven’t broken any rules” Molly declares in an angsty state of crisis – something that on a personal note I relate to HARD, especially thinking back to that weird limbo-like period after high school is over but before university begins. Anyway, as you might expect, the inseparable pair set out to correct this with one final night of partying in a last-ditch attempt to prove that they’re capable of having just as much fun as the rest of them *pumps fist in the air and rebelliously ‘sticks it to the man’*. In light of all of that, hilarity inevitably ensues – this is a comedy after all guys, existential anxieties aside.
The film is actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde’s first foray in the director’s chair – and wow, what a brilliant way to kick things off! Booksmart is fast, it’s furious, it’s funny and it’s got more than enough energy to cover two films over. But perhaps most importantly, it’s honest to an almost unnerving degree at times – something that really did catch me off guard in the best possible way. The film deals its strongest hand though in its uniquely-stylised capturing of the eclectic youthfulness of high school, the palpable anxiety associated with whatever-the-hell it is that comes next and, of course, the temperamental yet life-altering importance of friendships and relationships at an age wherein we all just assume we know all there is to know about these sorts of things – even though I think we can all secretly agree that nothing could be further from the truth. And thanks to a stellar cast, strong writing, focussed direction and two breakthrough leading performances, it manages to deliver on each of those ideas perfectly.
That sense of honesty arguably becomes most evident via both Booksmart and Wilde’s willingness and commitment to tackling both the highs and emotional lows that come alongside growing up at our age, in this age – but like I’ve mentioned, it really is the endearing performances from everyone involved that tie the whole film together. Both Feldstein and Dever deliver two deeply personal performances that really do propel the film above and beyond the heights of your typical ‘high school comedy’. Each displays a sense of vulnerability while simultaneously exuding a degree of sure-fire confidence that really does capture the turbulence of youth (look at me getting all philosophical and reflective at nineteen). And it’s because of exactly that that I’d be preeetty hard pressed to find an argument against both actors being destined for the big leagues after watching this film – and I for one am thrilled at that prospect. Also worthy of a quick mention though is Billie Lourd’s (daughter of the late Carrie Fisher) unhinged and frenetic performance as Gigi, a fellow classmate who just had me laughing whenever (and wherever) she mysteriously appeared – probably because I saw a lot of me and my own friends in amongst all the weirdness.
In terms of the script, it is like I’ve mentioned briefly, pin-pointedly accurate in its tackling of everything from friendships to parties and the angst that comes part and parcel with everything in between balancing academic life and personal life at this age. The film essentially plays out over one entire day (and one typically craaazy night) and because of that fact, both the pacing and Wilde’s sharp direction are imbued with a sense of energy that’s able to breathe new life into a narrative and format that some will say has been done before (I disagree for the most part but the Lady Bird comparisons are going to be inevitable – both equally stellar films, though entirely worthy of their own merit).
I know it’s early days to be saying something like this, but I really do think that Booksmart has the potential for cult status – with its unapologetic approach to teen life and all of its pressures, the stellar indie-pop soundtrack (LCD Soundsytem’s ‘Oh Baby’ is a personal favourite) and a self-assured style, what exactly is there not to love? Perhaps an equally controversial statement coming up here, but I also think that for all the reasons listed above, Booksmart could prove to be this generation’s answer to Superbad – a comparison that again doesn’t do justice to this film but is an interesting one to look at from the standpoint of potential cultural impact. What I’m trying to say here is that I can only hope that this film has the same long-lasting and enduring significance of Superbad or more classically, the John Hughes adolescent comedies of the 80s – and I think that’s a real possibility.
In short, I liked this film A LOT and I think that if you give it a chance, you might too. Booksmart is an intelligent, charming and nostalgic trip of a film that allowed me to really empathise with its characters and all that was going on on-screen. It knows the people it’s talking about and crucially, it knows the people it’s talking to – both young and old. It’s sharp, witty but never condescending – it also just so happens to be hilarious to boot so give it a chance, we need more films like this!