Spoilers will skip graduation.
Comedy films about high school are a dime a dozen. This one has a few things going for it that got me interested. To start, the characters actually appear to be in high school. More important than that, this is not the usual underachiever slacker underdog. It’s about the actually smart people getting the chance to raise a little hell. This feature also happens to be the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde. I always find it intriguing when an actor takes on the role of a director as long as they’re not the stars of the same film. In this case, Olivia doesn’t even appear in a cameo role.
Booksmart (2019) was directed by Olivia Wilde based on a screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. High school seniors Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy Antsler (Kaitlyn Dever) have always been exemplary students and high achievers. On the eve of their graduation, they learn that underachievers and slackers that have partied and coasted through their school life have managed to get into the same high tier colleges or score high paying jobs without as much effort. Molly suggest that now would be the only time in their lives they have to let loose and have the same kind of wild and crazy fun that they’ve denied themselves all these years.
The film is not trying to make the case for slacking off, but it is a voyage of discovery. Molly is realizing that fun could have been part of her schedule, but also that the people that she relegated as complete slackers were doing some studying on the side. On top of it all, Amy is also exploring her attraction for girls as she pursues her first crush. Yes, awkwardly. This is high school after all. They will decide to try to get into the party of the year thrown by Nick (Mason Gooding). Since they know nobody else their only option is Jared (Skyler Gisondo) who’s always hanging around the always high Gigi (Billie Lourd). Chaos will ensue.
I think the film owes a lot to its director, but also to the performances for some bright stars in its cast. Feldstein and Dever have a terrific and believable chemistry as best friends. The outlier for me was Billie Lourd as Gigi. She’s the Neil-Patrick-Harris to Molly and Amy’s duo, showing up when they need her the most and getting them into more trouble instead. That being said, there are a lot of memorable side stories in the movie. I particularly appreciate the character of Annabelle “Triple A” (Molly Gordon) as the girl in highschool who most other girls have branded slutty turning out to be a charitable human judged too harshly by the girls who should side with her.
The adults are mostly caricaturesque, as it is usually the case in teen films and it doesn’t help that some of them are SNL cast members. Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow play basically the same roles they play in every movie. Perhaps it’s for the best as it lets the kids shine. Jessica Williams is the only friendly honest face as the girls’ favorite teacher Miss Fine. However, she has an implied romantic subplot with one of the students that just had to add the one problematic blemish that this movie didn’t need. The movie never depicts more than a hint at romance, but a lot could be inferred.
Recommended as the one high school teen comedy that you should watch. I found it reassuring that the movie doesn’t overly-stereotype its teen cast and adds a little humanity to them. Audiences of raunchier teen comedies might expect more, but they still should give it a chance. The plot is simple enough with very little twists and as funny as entertaining as it is, it doesn’t forget to make sure everyone gets to the ending safely and perhaps even a little wiser. There are no particularly shocking surprises or nasty gags, but plenty of laughs. Worth a watch if you need a comedy to let off a little steam.
That will do for now.