The 2010s decade has gifted us with many coming-of-age movies that are destined to become classics. On the dramatic side think Call Me By Your Name or Moonlight; on the comedy side think Easy A, Edge of Seventeen, Lady Bird, or Love, Simon. Booksmart, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, deserves a spot on that list.
Booksmart follows two high school friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who have tirelessly devoted their lives to studying in hopes of getting into a top college. They soon realize that even the kids who seemed to not care about their work also got into top colleges, so they decide to make up for four years of high school fun the night before graduation. Dever and Feldstein have great chemistry and their portrayal of that stage of uncertainty for friendships in the midst of a major life transition is pitch perfect. Feldstein’s hard-headed and hard-loving Molly is the star of Booksmart; her performance is hysterical but still nuanced with notes of fear, regret, and longing. At times, it feels that Dever cannot keep up with Feldstein’s masterful performance, but by the final act of the film Dever’s character arc allows her greater room for a more varied and explosive performance. Dever’s dramatic moments are far better than her comedic moments in Booksmart.
The general premise of this film is very similar to that of 2007’s iconic Superbad; the Seth Rogen-penned film also follows two friends going crazy the night before their high school graduation. Booksmart is isn’t necessarily providing anything new or innovative, but it tells its story well. At times, it can feel difficult to create a truly great comedic script in the modern era, but Booksmart‘s writers (Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman) created a sharp and witty script that is laugh-out-loud funny. Thanks to the strong script, the supporting cast also give outstanding performances. Lisa Kudrow (Charmaine, Amy’s mother), Billie Lourd (Gigi), Nico Hiraga (Tanner), Austin Crute (Alan), and Noah Galvin (George) all give notable hilarious performances. Hiraga and Galvin nailed it everytime they were on screen, and for one major scene, Kudrow made an undeniable impact. I would argue that the supporting cast is the most important element of a strong comedic film. Comedies are never fun when the lead(s) does all the work, and in Booksmart that is thankfully not the case. Finally, Booksmart also scores big with its non-exploitative portrayal of LGBTQ+ romance. All too often in film and television, LGBTQ+ romance can feel like vehicles of tokenism, but in Booksmart they are presented as part of the general “normal” or “standard” and not some revolutionary new thing.
Booksmart is a solid and smart film. In all honesty, it was set up. God only knows why it was given a wide release alongside the Aladdin remake despite having no major stars. Regardless, everyone should make an effort to see this film and support great, original movies.