It’s so rare to have a movie that charms so instantly and consistently throughout the whole thing. Booksmart is that special gem that is so nearly perfect that it’s difficult to find anything bad to say about it. Really, everything in this movie worked so well for me that the bar has now been set for the number one spot on my list for the year. Really, it’s that good, just a hilarious joy from start to finish.
High school BFFs Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are the good kids. Good students-Molly is valedictorian-they are pals with teachers and enjoy their parents. When Molly learns that the kids that have spent most of their time partying are also going to good schools, she feels like they missed out on the true high school experience, so she pressures Amy into cutting loose for one night. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and in their struggle to see how the other ninety-nine percent lives, there are accidental drug binges, murder parties, awkward Lyft rides, and full-on crimes committed.
Feldstein, as the confident, aggressive, intelligent planner Molly and Dever as the uncomfortable, sensitive, risk-averse Amy are the perfect heroes we need right now. A lesser movie would have them the victim of their own characteristics, bullied for not being the norm-Molly isn’t the perfect size 0, Amy is a lesbian-but Booksmart is more concerned with upending stereotypes, and defying the label that this movie is just a female Superbad (which, okay it kind of is, but it really is so much more). Feldstein and Dever are perfectly matched and each one layers their performance with so much heart, as their characters veer from tightly-bound comrades through heartbreak and the eventual face-off. Every supporting character feels like a wholly lived-in person from the earnest teacher (Jessica Williams), the exhausted principal (Jason Suidekis), the supportive parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) and the other students, dim jock, Nick (Mason Gooding), trying-too-hard rich kid, Jared (Skyler Gisondo), his trainwreck sister, Gigi (Billie Lourd), the class slut, Triple A (Molly Gordon), and flamboyant performers George (Noah Galvin) and Alan (Austin Crute).
First-time director Olivia Wilde has a gift for balance and movement and doesn’t fall into the trap of numerous first timers (especially actors turned directors), where the trying too hard comes through on screen or the visual style is dull and gets squashed by the performances. There’s a sequence in the middle involving dolls that is ridiculous, weird. inspired, and hysterical. Really, I was laughing for so much of the movie that my sides actually began to hurt. Setting the humor aside, the movie also has a lot to say about damaging stereotypes and the crutches we use to maintain the status quo. With a smartly-written script (from scribes Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman), brilliant performances, deft directing, and a killer soundtrack, Booksmart is one of the most refreshing movies to come along in a while that is truly firing on all cylinders.
Can’t wait to see it again. (And again).
My Grade – A