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‘Booksmart’ (review by Fred Shahadi)

Produced by Megan Ellison, Chelsea Barnard,
David Distenfield, Jessica Elbaum, Katie Silberman

Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins,
Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman

Directed by Olivia Wilde
Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein,
Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow,
Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis

 

Booksmart is the movie you didn’t know you’ve been waiting for.

In a sea of superhero sequel CGI it’s really nice to see a powerful story about true friendship.

A movie like Booksmart is bound to fall victim to what happens to a lot of films Hollywood never knows quite what to do with. After all, is it a raunchy teen sex comedy? Is it a coming of age drama? Is it an art house film with a deeper message?

In a word, yes, it’s all of those.

Selling the story of Booksmart seems to be selling the story of its director, Olivia Wilde. Like Elizabeth Banks, Wilde has had a great career as an actress prior to stepping behind the camera. If this film is any indication, she will have an equally successful one as a director. She seems to be tailor made for, what is at its core, a story about strong women masquerading as a teen genre movie.

Booksmart is bound to be compared to some of the best teen genre films like Superbad, Mean Girls, Clueless, American Pie, Juno, Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Lady Bird, mostly because it seemingly borrows elements from all of them. The plot behind Booksmart is a familiar one. It follows two senior girls the night before graduation seeking out the fun they’ve been missing while they were too busy being ace students. But before you dismiss this as something you’ve seen before, you should know you’ve never seen anything like the amazing friendship between Booksmart’s main characters Molly and Amy.

Molly and Amy, played brilliantly by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, are so perfectly cast the only way an onscreen teen duo could be better is if they de-aged Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Ultimately, this movie lives and dies inside their amazing friendship. It is a privilege to watch it unfold over a breakneck twenty-four-hour period full of love and laughs. The sheer joy Feldstein and Dever employ whenever they greet each other brings a whole new meaning to the term friendship goals. Because of the deep love they share as friends, it makes the laughs longer, and the pain deeper.

Another striking thing about Booksmart that sets it apart, is it seems to be one of the first millennial teen films that isn’t simply making fun of millennials. Sure, it’s rife with millennial tropes like social media shaming, phones dying from overuse, and an awkward Lyft experience that ends up making a point about insufficient teacher pay; but Wilde allows each situation to play out in a way that empowers the teens instead of vilifying them.

The journey of Molly and Amy is its own Homer’s Odyssey that takes the heroines around town in search of the elusive house party. They can’t wait to surprise their schoolmates by showing up proving they are worthy. In a desperate attempt to catch up on four years of missed fun, Molly and Amy test the bonds of their friendship in a hilarious night to remember. Watching their choices, even when they’re wrong, is a delight. Witnessing them negotiate the peaks and valleys of the evening is so funny at times you will miss dialogue from laughing.

Molly and Amy aren’t perfect, by a longshot, nor do they pretend to be. Despite their academic brilliance they are painfully aware of their shortcomings when it comes to a lot of things their peers seem to have mastered. Like any good student they begin the night taking it on like a problem to solve before having to move far out of their comfort zone to get results. Besides being merely hilarious it is surprisingly heartfelt.

The supporting cast, including standouts Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, and Billy Lourd are equally amazing. Each character is instantly identifiable, hilarious, and sympathetic in their own way. There are also some great cameos including Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s cringingly over-supportive parents, and Jason Sudeikis as Principal Brown.

Don’t mistake this film as geared exclusively to millennials. The general themes of friendship, discovery, and loss are universal. Adults seeing this might not relate to the situation, but they will certainly empathize with the emotion, and genuinely care for Molly and Amy. They are the kind of imperfect heroines that learn through failure and positively crush it with success.

Booksmart is written by Katie Silberman and directed by Olivia Wilde making her feature debut. It’s in theaters now and I highly recommend seeing it. Making movies like this successful means they will continue making movies like this.

Go see it!

 

Fred Shahadi is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles. He is the author of the science fiction novel Shoot the Moon.

 

 

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