“What took them four years, we are doing in one night.”
Bad comedies are often too mean, good comedies are funny yet too predictable, and great comedies infuse a little drama and explosive laughs and a whole lot of love into the story in ways you might not have seen coming. And while on the surface it looks like Superbad 2.0 told from a feminist point of view, Booksmart hones and nearly perfects its unique place in the vast landscape of high school comedies, and it very well might be the funniest, most sincere movie I’ve seen so far this year. This is a love story between friends, a drama about new adulthood, and a celebration of how we all want to be seen for our own signature selves. Is it too premature to crown Booksmart as the early valedictorian of 2019’s class of comedies? I don’t think so.
Four years of two person sleepovers and an incalculable amount of time spent with noses buried in books have alienated soon to be former class president Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and the activist Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) from the rest of their graduating class. They’re outsiders by choice. Molly’s bossy, judgmental, elitist. She’s heading to Yale in the Fall, although she cannot scream it from the mountaintops like we can imagine her doing, because their class decided to not publish college destinations in an effort to be more inclusive. On the flip side is Amy, a bit of a pushover who follows Molly’s lead, and who’s been out of the closet for two years without having kissed a girl. Her religious parents Doug (Will Forte) and Charmaine (Lisa Kudrow) are silently accepting, albeit with some puzzlement. Booksmart doesn’t lay the laughs on too thick to start, instead opting to establish the many characters and the microcosm they’re all about to graduate from. Give it some time. Once it hits the 15 minute mark, there’s no turning back.
Molly and Amy studied hard. They didn’t party, didn’t make new friends, never cut class or cut loose. But what about the kids who did go out on the weekends? Well, they’re doing just fine for themselves. Nick (Mason Gooding) might be the guy who slams his skull into a locker for laughs and who won Vice President in a popularity contest, but he’s also going to Georgetown. Tanner (Nico Hiraga) skateboards through the halls as the final bell tolls, and he’ll be attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. Theo (Eduardo Franco) was recruited to skip college and code for Google with a mid six figures salary. There’s also Annabelle (Molly Gordon), cruelly nicknamed “Triple A” off the rumors that she offered certain guys sexual roadside assistance. She’ll be at Yale in the Fall, too. In fact, she got early acceptance due to her 1560 SAT. Molly panics, Amy tries to calm her, and they come to the decision that – presumably for the first time in their lives – they’re going to cram the entire study guide of the high school experience into one night. If they pass the test, graduation will meet them the next morning.
Dead set on attending a party where Amy’s crush Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) is said to be, and where Molly’s is revealed, Booksmart gives us hand-me-down setups and familiar payoffs while still managing to feel remarkably new and cutting edge at the same time. It’s progressive, forward-thinking, unabashedly feminist storytelling with an ear for humor and an eye for the little dramatic moments that often feel so overwhelmingly big as a high school senior. And what makes the movie such a touchstone comedy is the time invested in fleshing out the stellar supporting cast. You laugh at the insane Gigi (Billie Lourd) and Jared (Skyler Gisondo) as he tries to buy friendship, only until you get to know them. You roll your eyes at George (Noah Galvin) who’s a theater kid hosting a murder mystery party, only until you come to admire his dedication to entertaining. Molly and Amy didn’t like these people, not due to any previous wrongdoings, but because they never cared to see them as equals or as anything more than a yearbook photo. It’s a joy to see them finally socialize and empathize with their peers.
Written by four women and directed by Olivia Wilde in one of the best feature film debuts to come our way in many years (some of her stylistic choices, including a drug induced stop-motion sequence, are sublime), Booksmart seems to understand femininity better than just about every other high school movie I’ve ever seen, and never at the loss of alienating or incriminating the opposite sex either. In this movie, people are people and it’s our duty to meet them halfway. Booksmart is an intimate love story though, fueled by the fiercest of friendship bonds, and the movie soars thanks to the visible chemistry shared between its two remarkably talented young actresses. Feldstein shows great dramatic chops, Dever delivers her lines like a comedic vet, and together they make a formidable duo. Whether they’re in the ring or looking on from the outside, Molly and Amy remind us of how important it is to always have somebody fighting for you in your corner, cheering and offering affirmations.
Besides being flat-out hilarious and brimming with heart, Booksmart encourages us all to live in the moment and to try to connect with the people around us who might have otherwise gone overlooked. To not just send a Facebook friend request or leave an insincere comment on a random social media post, but to express genuine interest in getting to know a person. To not see them as the vague body of a somebody, but as the singular person that they are as someone. I’ll be revisiting this film with great frequency for those subtle reminders. Booksmart is laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtful, kind-spirited, and deserves to go down as one of the definitive high school comedies of the modern era. We have ourselves a new classic.
“Things are never gonna be the same, but it was perfect.”
Rating: 5 out of 5