“Booksmart” goes to great lengths to separate itself from other coming-of-age stories. This is no “16 Candles,” and it is not “Call Me by Your Name.” Above all else, it is not “Superbad.” This is where the film’s greatest strength lies; it is something in the same category but completely different.
In this case, the audience is presented with Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two girls who spent all of high school studying to get into good colleges and as a result never socialized with their peers. They have fake college IDs, which they use to get into college libraries, Amy uses a stuffed panda to masturbate and their conversations typically involve using influential females to get each other to do things (look out for Malala Yousafzai). So when their final opportunity to do something crazy before their high school career endscomes in the form of their classmate Nick’s party, they have to take it. A large part of their journey is getting to his party though, resulting is a night of drugs, drinking, pornography and crashing other people’s parties in search of Nick’s.
The one thing the characters in “Booksmart” are not, is boring. Almost everyone has their time to shine and play an integral part in the story. Molly and Amy have perfect chemistry and their friendship has major ups and downs that are believable. The supporting cast helps draw it out so well, with characters such as Amy’s crush Ryan and bully Annabelle bringing in the reasoning that Amy and Molly need to pres on through the night. One of the highlights of the film comes in the form of the characters Gigi and Jared. Jared’s role as the try-hard makes him seem like a one-off character (his license plate reads “FUK BOI.”), but when he is explored more in-depth you realize how deep both his character and his arc are. Gigi lies somewhere between mystical and psychopathic, which makes for some of the most hysterical parts of the film which left me wheezing. Even though she does not have an arc, she is given some weight in the story and how she affects the lives of others.
Some arcs like Amy’s crush on Ryan and Molly’s reasoning for wanting to go to the party seem realistic. Even though there are some things that don’t particularly make sense in how the characters act, such as Gigi’s mysterious presence at every party Amy and Molly go to, or the fact that Amy and Molly got college IDs, the go-to answer this reviewer is going with is they are in high school and high schoolers are resourceful and can make shit happen. Director Olivia Wilde made sure no stone was left unturned in this film.
Nick’s party itself is the biggest leap of faith the movie takes because what happens here can make or break the movie. The film smartly tones down the comedic aspects a bit here in order to make room for characters to grow or for the audience to learn more about them. While there is obviously growth for Amy and Molly, the direction “Booksmart” takes for them to get there is marvelous. The same goes for what is learned about Ryan, Nick and Jared. Some of the direction choices are well done like a scene involving an argument involving two characters and a scene involving Amy and another character in the bathroom. Sometimes the comedic beats try to come in when they should not, like when Miss Fine hooks up with a student. While it was a little funny, it made the transition in tones a bit more difficult.
With the cinematography, there are a few shots that will leave jaws on the floor. Particularly one sequence where Amy is underwater and sifting through the pool looking for Ryan. Another involves two characters dancing in a house turned exotic paradise. Without giving anything away I just want to say those are two scenes to definitely look out for.
“Booksmart” is an ideal coming-of-age film bringing contemporary views and comedy into play. When I left the theater I passed by a group of senior citizens who misunderstood what the film was about coming in. As a result, they did not enjoy it because they thought it was crude and had too much profanity. Considering the fact I have a younger perspective and listen to current music and keep up with things younger people do, this seemed like a movie I would relate to, especially since I graduated high school less than a decade ago. Nonetheless, there are a few comedic beats which did not land well, such as the aforementioned scene with Miss Fine and some of the scenes from classmate George’s party, but typically comedy works that way; it is different for everyone. Fortunately, this was the case only a few times. If you need a laugh there will more than likely be something there for you.