Booksmart | Olivia Wilde | May 24, 2019
There is no shortage of films about high school, let along classics etched into our brains with countless quotable moments that have stood the test of time: Dazed and Confused, American Graffiti, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and most recently, Superbad. But there’s no doubt a lack of a strong female presence when it comes to lead performers, something that certainly will change with the release of Booksmart, the whip-smart instant classic from Olivia Wilde, who is making her directorial debut in smashing fashion.
Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are best friends and high school seniors on the eve of their graduation. They’ve spent the past four years working hard to make sure they got into the top tier colleges of their choice, coming at the expense of having fun and partying like so many of their peers who they look down upon. But their hard work paid off, as they got into their dream schools and could hold it over the rest of their classmates who wasted their time chugging beers and diving into sexual exploits.
Only they realize that just about everyone else also got into great colleges and did so while partying and having fun. Molly doesn’t handle this epiphany well and comes to realize that they may have wasted some of their prime years when they could have been having fun this whole time. So she ropes Amy into her plan to give this one last night before graduation their all so everyone knows that they too know how they have a good time.
Like so many classics of this coming of age genre, Booksmart shows the girls indulging in a hedonistic night out where they try to find the location of the big final bash held by Nick (Mason Gooding), a popular kid at school that Molly has secretly been crushing on. This results in the duo stumbling from party to party, each as whacky and unique as the last, such as a lonely boat party hosted by rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and a murder mystery party hosted by theater kid George (Noah Galvin), each sidetracking them on their ultimate party mission journey.
Wilde surprises with her razor sharp and confident direction, harboring none of the traits of an unsure first-time director. She anchors the witty and smart screenplay helmed by the four-person writing team of Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. While a writing team of this size is usually a red flag, this is a sincere screenplay that allows its characters to truly shine.
Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are pitch-perfect as best friends, utterly believable and sincere in their love and adoration for one another. Dever has been on our radar ever since her stunning turn in Short Term 12 way back in 2013. Both she and Feldstein (a highlight in last year’s Lady Bird) find so many universal truths within their performances, which equal amounts of hilarity and heartbreak to be found on their collective journey.
The entire cast is great, littered with wild and crazy performances from faces familiar and new. Skyler Gisondo and Billie Lourd (Carrie Fisher’s daughter) offer scene-stealing performances that are the undeniable highlights of the strong supporting cast of the 20-somethings-playing-high schoolers that also includes Molly Gordon, Noah Galvin, Mason Gooding, Diana Silvers (also in next weekend’s Ma), Eduardo Franco, and Nico Hiraga. On the more familiar side of things, there are some funny moments from Jason Sudeikis (Wilde’s husband), Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, and Mike O’Brien.
What Wilde most impressively navigates is the way that Amy and Molly are judgemental to their peers. In a lesser film, the supporting characters that make up their school body would be stereotypical one-dimensional characters rather than real people. But all these characters are shown to be more than they originally seem to our two leads and we realize that they were unfairly judged and misrepresented. As it turns out, both sides misjudged one another, and by the time Graduation Day comes (~24 hours later), both see each other in a completely new light.
Booksmart shines with its ability to navigate the familiar coming-of-age drama by forging its own path and offering one undeniably funny scene after another, with plenty of heart and emotion as the connective thread between the gags. It’s filled with tons of great performances and what will go down as one of the best soundtracks of the year – we especially love the use of the underrated Discovery throughout the film.
Upon reflection, one particular long-tracking shot during a pivotal climatic moment shared between the two friends was an impressive technical feat that left a lasting impression. It was just one of the many remarkable moments in this coming-of-age soon-to-be-classic for future generations that marks the arrival of Olivia Wilde as directorial talent whose next feature we eagerly await.