Film & Television

‘Booksmart’: Geeks Gone Wild

First-time director Olivia Wilde (known for her considerable acting credits and activism; she’s on the board of “Artists for Peace and Justice,” which supports programs in education, health care, and the performing arts in Haiti) does a tremendous job bringing the audience into the intimate and very real relationship between Molly and Amy, and then switching to a more expansive and madcap approach for the outrageous party scenes. While Booksmart is often (very) funny, it’s also deeply touching. No matter how silly the evening gets (and it gets very silly indeed), the performances aren’t just strong, they’re human across the board.

Beanie Feldstein, who played the best friend in 2017’s Lady Bird and made her Broadway debut in the Bette Midler revival of Hello, Dolly!, is Molly. Brainy, confident, and a bit too bossy, she aims to become the youngest justice on the Supreme Court. Feldstein’s irresistible comic chops may well be hereditary. She’s the younger sister of Superbad‘s Jonah Hill.

Kaitlyn Dever, named by Variety as an “Actor to Watch,” plays Amy, who is quieter, deeply committed, and willing (until she isn’t anymore) to follow Molly’s lead. She plans to spend the summer in Botswana helping girls make their own feminine hygiene products. (It’s life or death, we learn. Lions are attracted to the smell of blood.) Dever’s role is less gregarious than Feldstein’s, but the two are well matched. In fact, the promotional machine for Booksmart was quick to point out that the two young women became real-life best friends, actually moving in together. That gal-pal chemistry is apparent onscreen.

The supporting cast is also terrific, with stand-out performances from Billie Lourd (daughter of the late Carrie Fisher); Mason Gooding (son of Cuba Gooding); and Skyler Gisondo. Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte have a brief but funny scene as Amy’s parents, who are supportive of her “special friendship” with Molly, going out of their way to make their gay daughter feel accepted and misinterpreting the girls’ relationship along the way.

Writers Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman pepper the script with progressive and feminist commentary. This contemporizes and elevates the genre, making the film much smarter than it might have been. When one of the two girls needs to make a no-questions-asked request of the other, the code word they use is “Malala.”

Reviews of movies about high school hijinks are not the typical fare you find in Women’s Voice for Change. But Booksmart — happily — is not your typical high school flick. Its focus on powerful female friendship, the choices smart young women make, and the aspirations to which they strive make it an enjoyable, albeit often rather silly, journey for discerning audiences.

And, yes, that includes those of us who left the trials and tribulations of high school behind a few years . . . all right, decades . . . ago.

 

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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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