Film & Television

‘Booksmart’: Geeks Gone Wild

At Women’s Voices for Change, our mission is to celebrate the wisdom and power of women in the second half of life. So, as a cultural critic, I actively seek out films (or TV series) that are directed by or written by women. It isn’t always easy. Often, I have to travel an hour or more (past multiple multiplexes) to find the sort of screening rooms and art houses that attract a PBS crowd. There, I watch independent films with modest budgets, a segment of the business that offers more opportunities for women. These movies make up Hollywood’s own version of a “velvet ghetto.”

This isn’t news. According to Women in Hollywood, of the top-grossing 250 films of 2018, only 16% were written by women and only 8% were directed by women. The numbers are even bleaker for the top 100 titles, with just 4% directed by women. Although slightly better, the numbers for women in front of the camera still don’t reach parity with those for men. In the top 100 films, women were sole protagonists 31% of the time, a new record. However, the number more than doubles — to 68% — for independent films. Of course, these movies are harder to find.

So, imagine my surprise — and delight — to discover a new, mainstream movie (playing pretty much everywhere) that is directed by a woman, written by four women, and stars two young but exceptionally talented women.

It’s called Booksmart, and it’s a funny, entertaining, and very smart celebration of the deep friendship between two academically gifted girls who decide to make up for four years of non-stop studying with one epic night of partying.

If the set-up sounds familiar, it should. Booksmart borrows elements of many coming-of-age classics, from American Graffiti (1973) to Risky Business (1983) to Superbad (2007). The difference, though, is that these features typically focus on boys becoming men. Booksmart, which doesn’t skimp on revelry or even at times raunch, offers the genre a welcome feminist take.

Molly (student body president, valedictorian, and soon-to-be Yale freshman) and Amy (activist, out but inexperienced lesbian, and headed to Columbia) are best friends. They are super supportive of each other and long ago decided to eschew adolescent fun and games in favor of cracking the books, loading up on AP credits, studying Mandarin, graduating at the top of their class, and getting into Ivy League schools. The riskiest business they’ve ever been involved in was getting fake college IDs so they could use a 24-hour library. Their plan for the night before graduation is to enjoy some cake and watch a Ken Burns documentary.

The plan changes, abruptly, however when Molly overhears some slackers making fun of her in the school’s (apparently unisex) bathroom. She comes out of her stall and announces that she doesn’t care what they think because she’s going to Yale. “So what,” shrugs Triple A, a girl so-called because she has famously performed “roadside assistance” for multiple boys, “I am too.” The others are also going to elite schools, except for one nerd who is going directly to Google to code. Molly’s world is rocked.

“But you don’t even care about school!” she protests. “No,” Triple A snaps back, “We just don’t only care about school.”

Realizing that they have made a strategic mistake — and have very little time to correct it — Molly convinces Amy that they have to make up for lost time. Nick (handsome, athletic, but fairly lightweight in the brains department) is having a huge party at the home of his aunt and uncle who are stranded on a cruise ship. Attending this party becomes the girls’ new mission, but alas, they don’t have an address for it. Undeterred, they dress in matching jumpsuits and berets, armed with cell phones, fake IDs and hand sanitizer, and set out.

Their odyssey includes accidentally crashing two alternative parties (one on a yacht, rented by a rich kid who tries too hard; the other an immersive murder mystery hosted by over-the-top drama students); hijacking a pizza delivery guy; and taking a disturbing Uber ride from their moonlighting principal. They eventually find the party, enlisting the aid of a sympathetic teacher who turns out to be a bit of a cougar, and go from the thrill of fitting in and feeling cool to the realization that there are cracks in the friendship they’ve counted on for so many years. Add a drug-induced Barbie doll fantasy and an inopportune police raid, and it’s just another “teens gone wild while the grownups are away” story.

Except that it’s so much more.

 

 

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  • JoAnn Anglin June 4, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Took my grandsons to see Booksmart. We left after about 40 minutes. I almost never leave a movie. This one, which had a good premise, was a MAJOR disappointment. And waste of talent. Characters throughout were badly executed stereotypes, unlikeable. Almost every scene was chaotic and just not credible. American Graffiti is an artistic genius of a film by comparison. Sadly disappointing.

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