Director: Olivia Wilde
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Skyler Gisondo, Billie Lourd, Jason Sudeikis
Words – Toni Stanger
Olivia Wilde’s directorial feature-length debut Booksmart has been compared to other coming-of-age comedies, namely Superbad, and whilst it does draw comparisons to the films that came before it, Booksmart is unique in its own right, as a direct result of it being written and directed by women. It’s a breath of fresh air, following in the footsteps of films such as The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird – in a story about female friendship, there’s an uplifting female voice that stands out.
Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) spent their entire high school career following the rules and studying hard so they would get into great colleges. This has led Molly to believe that they’re better than everyone else, but that soon comes crashing down when she realises that the irresponsible students who partied also got into great colleges. “We didn’t have to choose, they did both” Molly exclaims. Deciding that other people need to know there’s more to them than just being smart, Molly and Amy set out to have one wild night before graduating the following day.
Booksmart takes many of the same tropes and narrative beats from a story we’re all familiar with, but it injects it with a woman’s touch. It’s a simple, relatable and entertaining story that invites in some key representation, it celebrates female sexuality in a way that is usually reserved for teenage boys – there’s talk of porn and there’s even masturbation jokes, both topics usually so taboo for female characters that they’re hardly explored in mainstream cinema. Amy is also a lesbian which is naturally part of her character instead of being used as a narrative tool. Molly offers encouragements, telling Amy she’s gonna have so many girls “up her vagina” in college, which directly mirrors the kind of language we usually here from the boys.
We see Amy nervously talking to a girl she likes which is super relatable. There’s even a lesbian sex scene which is full of fumbled awkwardness. It’s so fun and pure at the start, but soon becomes reminiscent of an American Pie gag which is a shame. It would’ve been nice for the comedy to take a back seat here, as it could’ve been a very important win for positive and normal lesbian representation. Overall, the representation isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a major step forward in how well in it handles its characters.
Full of spectacular one-liners, a memorable karaoke session and a hit soundtrack, Booksmart is a heartwarming celebration of female friendship portrayed with heart and realism. These dorky friends are so close and supportive of one another that they have adorable and empowering compliment wars. As well as lifting each other up, they make references to other powerful women throughout the film, such as Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They even use “Malala” as their safe word. However, the film also shows that friendships can have issues when they have an explosive argument in a standout scene that highlights Feldstein and Dever’s acting talents and chemistry with one another.
Outside of Feldstein and Dever, the rest of the cast are a highlight with every role a perfect fit. Olivia Wilde’s husband Jason Sudeikis appears as the school’s Principal, whilst Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte are Amy’s loveable parents. Santa Clarita Diet’s Skyler Gisondo stars as Jared, a wealthy student who is constantly looking for approval. His quirkiness works exceptionally alongside Billie Lourd’s bizarre Gigi, who plays into some of the film’s best comedy. It’s a role that her mother, Carrie Fisher, would definitely be proud of.
Booksmart seems to restructure the clique system as it’s almost non-existent between these characters. It’s a refreshing take, but definitely seems like a feminist fantasy along with the school’s unisex bathrooms which don’t cause any problems.
Any issues with Booksmart are minor as the overall experience is a triumph. There’s a wonderful stop-motion sequence featuring Barbie dolls which is a truly iconic spin on the classic drug trip which will never go out of style.
Katie Silberman, one of the film’s screenwriters, said high school comedies “are very reflective of the generation they’re talking about, but the stories and the arcs and themes are timeless.” This was definitely achieved with Booksmart, a fun and clever comedy that people will be revisiting and relating to for years to come.