Every so often a film screens at a festival and we begin to hear, “Best film of the year,” “All the awards,” “You’re going to love it.” Film Twitter screams, and you wonder and wait until you finally get to see for yourself whether or not the hype is justified.
The buzz is impossible to escape. You watch the trailer and you think, “Well, it does look good and I do love (insert your pet this or that) so maybe this time they’re right… maybe… just maybe.”
Finally, you sit down to watch the film, and it’s either incredible, merely okay, or else you question your sanity and wonder if we all saw the same movie.
Which brings me to Booksmart, that film that came fast out of the gate from SXSW.
Well, let’s start by confirming. YES! Trust the buzz. Believe the hype. It is real. You will love it. You will laugh and you will cry. It is that good! It’s one of those films that you will want to see again and again, and drag your friends to see it again, because you want to share the fun, and you laughed so much the first time, you missed hearing all the comebacks.
Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are the good girls. They’re the kind of rule-abiding students who never skip class, are always in the library and do what they’re meant to do. They may be labeled Goodie Two-Shoes. Swots. Clever Clogs. Whatever you want to call them, it hardly matters. They’re too busy racking up straight A’s and getting accepted to the best universities. Molly is Valedictorian and headed to Yale. Amy is taking the summer to travel to Botswana before heading to Columbia. Are they best friends? Of course they are.
It’s the day before graduation and it’s begun to dawn on Molly that maybe she and Amy have done things a bit wrong. It comes as a shock when she learns that some of her fellow classmates could break the rules and enjoy their teenage years – and still get into the best colleges. So Molly and Amy decide to cut loose and have a blast before they graduate — to make a last grab at all the high school memories they failed to create, and prove to themselves that fun and books can coexist.
And so from there on out, it’s a fantastic ride as the duo set out to attend the hottest night-before graduating party they can find. Nick (Mason Gooding) is throwing the party and neither Amy nor Molly have any clue where it is, so their first quest is to figure out where it is. Inevitably this turns into a night of detours and misadventures, but it’s ultimately a journey of friendship and self-discovery.
The best coming of age films of recent times – Lady Bird, Love, Simon, and last year’s Eighth Grade – have all been refreshing and different. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut has so many great things about it, to list them all would be spoiling the enjoyment.
Where Wilde excels most is in developing the characters we get to know. As portrayed by Beanie Feldstein and Kailtyn’s Dever, the best friend dynamic between Amy and Molly is thoroughly believable and filled with authenticity. I learned after seeing the film that the two actresses had lived together for a while and their genuine chemistry shows.
Upending expectations, we truly root for these two do-gooders. They’re likable and just incredibly bighearted. Booksmart is such a beautiful story of strong female bonding because theirs is a positive friendship, a genuine supportive partnership, that the writers and Wilde fully understand. Terrifically and deeply observed with well-crafted characters, the screenplay is carefully crafted in collaboration between Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman, and gracefully enhances an earlier version by Susanna Fogel. Their deep understanding of teen girl dynamics shines through with every line that packs a laugh and every moment that delivers emotional impact. It’s a tour-de-force of seamless teamwork between the creators and cast and crew.
Amy is a young feminist. She’s discovered her sexuality and wants to explore it with a cool skater girl, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga). Molly wants to be the youngest judge to sit on the Supreme Court, but that doesn’t mean she can’t find time to be a great friend. She is. Between Wilde’s intimate framing of the film and an outstanding script from Katherine Silberman, we feel like voyeurs, seeing two best friends embark on their witty adventure to get to Nick’s party, because they perfectly encapsulate these characters.
Dever’s character is so well written. She’s done the coming out part. She has a girlcrush on Ryan but doesn’t know how to approach her. That awkwardness just adds to the realism that this film gets note perfect. Feldstein is just absolutely fantastic. A breath of fresh air who nails her comic timing while delivering a touching performance.
It’s not all laughs. There’s drama too. The two friends have a moment. It’s a powerful one because of what Wilde chooses to do with the sequence.
The casting throughout is stellar. Superb. Wonderful performances from Skyler Gisondo, Billie Lourd, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte that add so much to the already strong film. They each bring surprising depth to their characters – parents, super rich girl, a guy who didn’t get into college but has landed a job at Google. Lourd, on a side note’s entrance, is memorable and foreshadows a sly taste of what’s to come.
What Wilde has done here is deliver a film that’s more than an outstanding directorial debut. Booksmart is destined to become a cult high school classic, filled with bold and daring choices that work because she has the confidence to deploy them without fear. Whether she’s pulling the sound completely or daring a trippy moment, it all works like a charm. She’s taken a familiar well-tread genre, one that has been done many times before, and injected it with incredible freshness. One thing that makes the telling of this story so unique, something we rarely see, is that there are no labels in this film. No cliches. There’s no bullying, no quest to lose virginity, no parents causing conflicts or issues. How refreshing it is to see a film about two cool, smart girls just looking to have one last teen fling before summer end and college begins.
I predict Booksmart will quickly earn its cult status. Let no preconceived ideas put you off seeing this film. It stands in a league of its own. It’s going to be quoted as much as Mean Girls. It’s going to be meme’d, gifed, and everything else that swirls around cultural touchstones. Why? Because it’s relatable. Because you love Molly. You love Amy. With a quirk of life-course realignment, any of us could have been Molly or Amy. Just as we might have been Gigi. This film will connect on a level with you that will make you remember your own high school experience. But most of all, Booksmart achieves what the rarest of films ever do – it brings fresh joy, humor and fun to a genre we grew up loving, and reminds us why we love this genre in the first place.