Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have their sights set beyond high school and have stuck to their studies, ignoring any social life beyond their own friendship. On the eve of graduation, Yale-headed Molly finds out her school partier rivals have also gotten into good schools without making the sacrifices she has. Now Molly and Amy are determined to prove they can have fun and decide to attended the best graduation party in town…if they can find it.
Booksmart is a very impressive and stylish directorial debut from actress Olivia Wilde. The script is credited to four writers and while that would normally be a possible sign of trouble, here it is a clever and sometimes heartfelt collaboration. Booksmart doesn’t reinvent the high school coming of age comedy, but it does delightfully revitalize it. Wilde and her writers tackle all the usual high school themes like the social hierarchy and teen romance, but approaches them in a fresh and fun way. There is some wonderfully witty dialogue and the script and director don’t shy away from more contemporary themes with some openly gay characters such as Amy herself. Part of the whole reason the girls are headed to Nick’s (Mason Gooding) party is so Amy can spend time with tattooed skater-girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) and Molly can finally admit she has a crush on Nick. The outcome of their last night of school quest is both realistic, poignant and fun…and that’s what makes this flick work so well. A perfect blend. The characters are treated with respect and even stereotype characters avoid feeling like clichés. They are very human, such as Molly Gordon’s girl with a reputation “Triple A”. She surprises us by not only being a likable and feisty young lady, but her acceptance into Yale, too, is one of the reasons that drives Molly to want this one night of decadence. The film handles multiple characters well and aside from not shying away from serious themes, the film can be a lot of raunchy fun and there are layers of wit and cleverness to go with it, so it avoids being just vulgar. It’s a very offbeat and heartfelt coming of age story that never forgets to be decadent fun and is smart about doing it. No better example of this is a delightful stop motion animation sequence when Amy and Molly are given some drugged strawberries. Inventive, demented and hilariously funny.
The film presents a great cast of eccentric yet familiar characters and the actors all do great work under Wilde’s guidance. Beanie Feldstein is simply wonderful as nerdy, ambitious Molly. A girl who hit the books running and on the eve of her moving on to college, finds out, hilariously, that she could have had a little fun along the way. The actress has great comic timing and plays the dramatic moments strongly. A star in the making. Same can be said of Kaitlyn Dever whose openly gay Amy is a sweet, sensitive and spirited young woman who joins her friend on this one last hurrah before leaving high school to do volunteer work in Africa. There are a host of delightfully portrayed off-beat characters to support them. Billie Catherine Lourd is a lot of fun as the weird rich girl Gigi. Skyler Gisondo as the shameless self promoter Jared, who may not be as shallow as he appears. Mason Gooding is solid as the school hunk Nick. Victoria Ruesga is also good as Amy’s crush Ryan and Molly Gordon makes her “school slut” character, Triple A, very likable and human. There are also some veterans in the cast such as Jason Sudeikis as Principal Jordan, Lisa Kudrow as Amy’s oddball mom Charmaine and Will Forte as her equally quirky dad Doug. Simply a great cast.
Overall, this was a dynamite debut for director Olivia Wilde. It refreshes both the high school coming of age flick and the characters set within such stories. It has a great cast including wonderful performances by it’s leads and is not afraid or shies away from more serious and contemporary themes. It also approaches it’s characters all with sensitivity and respect and portrays it’s gay characters as simply part of the story without turning them into showcase set pieces. Bravo to Olivia Wilde and writers Katie Silberman, Sarah Haskins, Emily Halpern and Susanna Fogel. A great indie movie!
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) graduation caps.