To be honest, what made me go see Booksmart was its tag line: “Getting Straight A’s/ Giving zero F’s” (which is just what I felt like on that day). At first, on paper, it seemed like it might just be moderately fun, but it looked better than that- it had a certain allure and “I know what I’m doing” vibe, and the cinema next to me had reduced price student previews so I thought “why not”.
Director Olivia Wilde does “coming of age” effortlessly and hilariously funny. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are two best friends who have spent high school getting the highest honours and studying hard so that they could get into the best colleges in the US. On their last day of school, Molly realises that they could have also had some fun in the process and convinces (read: forces) Amy to go to one party and make up for the years of shunning their more sociable peers. They go on a fun -and at times weird- journey, they find out things about themselves, one another and bond with some of the other kids. The concept itself is not original, however, the delivery is. The characters feel fresh, curious and explorative, taking the audience on a journey together. Importantly, they have chemistry. Damn, I want to have a code word with my friends now! The film’s take on Amy’s sexuality is also light-hearted and natural. It is emphasised, but in the same way that every other character’s sexuality is (even teachers get their moment), putting everyone’s experiences on an equal footing.
Funny thing: the best friend is Beanie Feldstein, who plays the best friend in….Lady Bird. Hence why I kept comparing the two films throughout my viewing of Booksmart. Verdict? Where Lady Bird felt forced and precious, Booksmart felt natural from beginning to end. Sure, some of the situations the two friends go through seem a bit far-fetched, but they feel right and so does the progression of the film, the character development and even the “girl meets boy” part. It doesn’t tell things just for the sake of telling them, it doesn’t aim to be another “rebel without a cause” story or roll its eyes in pastel colours. It feels real, light-hearted and very, very enjoyable!
Booksmart is also humble. For all it’s worth, I did feel that the film’s peaks were reaching some form of plateau, even the most exciting or interesting moments were sometimes not given enough space to fully develop. This could have gone two ways- make the audience feel unsatisfied, gagged, or make us feel like these moments are part of life and they will pass, because the world doesn’t stop for anyone. I’d say it made me feel a bit of both.
Another comparison I would draw between Booksmart and Lady Bird is that the male roles in the latter were acted well. Skyler Gisondo’s Jared was brilliant. At times I was more interested in his character development than in that of the leads Amy and Molly. He plays an apparently arrogant spoilt boy with an inane vulnerability that peeks from time-to-time, making you wonder whether there is more to him than meets the eye (spoiler: there is). Which brings me to: every character introduced in Booksmart has their moment and their backstory- they are all in this together and they are all archetypes we meet in school. And for once, this doesn’t seem like an American high-school experience on steroids, it feels relatable and, for someone who went to high-school quite a few years ago, nostalgic.
Go see Booksmart, it is an absolute feel-good delight, which will make you feel happy, effervescent, perhaps nostalgic. And I can’t emphasise how well every punchline lands. Kudos to the writers: Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern and Katie Silberman.
Oh, I almost forgot. Written by four females and directed by one, Booksmart is feminist without even trying. What’s to appreciate is that even though the two main characters are female and that the film is peppered with supporting female characters, it doesn’t for a moment feel like they’re in it “for the sake of it”. It also has solid male supporting characters, with their own story and voice. Honestly, well done!