Directed by Olivia Wilde
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis
Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking — all involving teens
1 hr. 42 min.
The term “coming-of-age film” becomes trite, afterwhile. When a movie can crystallize those “my brain is still growing but I don’t realize it” teenage years, and succeed at being both satiric and real, it deserves a better description. Booksmart is a film with that mission — to hilariously congeal the anxiety, the self-recriminations of the high school experience, with a sense of female empowerment. Mission accomplished.
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay executive produced this crisp, flat-out-funny story of two overachieving soon-to-be grads who, after discovering that classmates they considered wastrels will soon be off to major universities, too, explore their hedonistic sides. First time director Olivia Wilde (House) makes a solid, smooth debut, working with a well-polished script by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman.
Apparently, it sat around for years. That’s nothing new in Hollywood, but the timing here was just right. Leads Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are priceless as Molly and Amy, the student body president and her bestie (who came out as lesbian in the 10th grade). Their cohesion onscreen was cemented both by preternatural comic chops and the fact that the actresses lived together for two and a half months before filming began.
Molly and Amy suffer no fools at Davy Crockett High, but as Graduation Eve approaches, they both realize the need to indulge their Id and their desires. For Molly, it’s her vapid, popular vice president, Nick (Mason Gooding). For Amy, it’s cute, goofy skater-girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga).
They plow through a succession of whacky parties on their way to the one that’s really rockin’, at Nick’s place. Popping up, literally, along the way is the school’s One-Percenter, Gigi, played by the gifted Billie Lourd. She is very much her mother’s daughter when it comes to bringing the funny. Her mom, of course, was Carrie Fisher, and her grandmother, Debbie Reynolds. In fact, several of the young stars come from acting gene pools — Feldstein is the sister of Jonah Hill, Gooding is Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr.’s son.
Just about every variety of high school clique has its representative, and the parties are the nexus for hook-ups and hijinx. Booksmart, however, keeps the cheerleaders and the jocks to a minimum. You could look at it as all-inclusive.
The adult figures are subjects of self-discovery, too. Jason Sudeikis’ Principal Brown is the very picture of a jaded administrator. Jessica Williams is a popular, nosering-wearing teacher, down enough with the kids to gain their trust. Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte are sweet and soporific as Amy’s parents, both a hoot and naïve as they attempt to embrace their daughter’s orientation with no judgement.
This is a quick, fluid comedy that, regardless of what it made over its debut weekend, should double its grosses through word of mouth. The relationship of Molly and Amy, as rock solid as it is, experiences some travail through the 24 hours it takes to get into cap and gown, but that’s where the wicked satire locks eyes with the movie’s soul. While the sharp laughs fly as though they are shot from a t-shirt cannon, you feel the growth, the love and the understanding the girls’ experience.
There’s a long list of high school-themed comedies that have left a mark at the box office and on pop culture. You could start with The Breakfast Club, swing over to Dazed and Confused, stop at Can’t Hardly Wait, shoot through Mean Girls, then, more recently, Lady Bird and Edge of Seventeen. Before all is done, Booksmart should take its rightful place among all of the above. Book-smart, whip- smart, smart all around.