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Booksmart Movie Review

Booksmart (2019) movie poster Booksmart

Theatrical Release: May 24, 2019 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Olivia Wilde / Writers: Katie Silberman, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel

Cast: Kaitlyn Dever (Amy), Beanie Feldstein (Molly), Jessica Williams (Miss Fine), Jason Sudeikis (Principal Brown), Lisa Kudrow (Charmaine), Will Forte (Doug), Victoria Ruesga (Ryan), Mason Gooding (Nick), Skyler Gisondo (Jared), Diana Silvers (Hope), Molly Gordon (Triple A/Annabelle), Billie Lourd (Gigi), Eduardo Franco (Theo), Nico Hiraga (Tanner), Austin Crute (Alan), Noah Galvin (George), Mike O'Brien (Pat the Pizza Guy), Maya Rudolph (Motivational Voice)

 

Booksmart joins the ranks of movies that are chiefly about being in high school. There are a lot of these and many of them are quite well-regarded, from John Hughes' iconic '80s comedies through favorites as recent as Mean Girls and Love, Simon.
You might liken Booksmart to 2017's esteemed Lady Bird since it too hails from a hip young studio accustomed to clout (Annapurna Pictures) and a seasoned young actress making her directing debut (Olivia Wilde). It even features Beanie Feldstein, Lady Bird's best friend, in a leading role.

But though Booksmart could generate Lady Bird levels of critical acclaim, it has more in common with Superbad. Only in this case, the protagonists are not two randy teenage boys, but two goal-oriented feminist young women. They're still looking to score. But more so they're just looking to cut loose and have fun on the eve of their high school graduation.

Conscientious achievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Feldstein) have spent their four years of high school striving to get good grades. Their academic success has come at the cost of their social lives. Each is the only friend the other has. After Molly, who is valedictorian and class president, overhears her peers speaking ill about her in the bathroom and learns that these kids who have goofed off and had fun the past four years have still managed to get into the same good Ivy League colleges as she and Amy (or land high-paying tech jobs straight out of high school), she decides they have to crash the night's biggest graduation party, a bash being thrown in the house of the aunt of the school's popular Vice President Nick (Mason Gooding, son of Cuba Jr.).

Goal-oriented best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) decide to cut loose at a graduation party in the high school comedy "Booksmart."

Amy requires some persuading, but she gets on board, setting up a night of uncharacteristic adventure. Just getting to the party poses plenty of adventure (well, misadventure) for these longtime best friends. They get tricked into attending the yacht party of rich pariah Jared (Skyler Gisondo), one characterization that feels false. They end up in a Lyft being driven by their principal (Wilde's partner Jason Sudeikis), who brings them to still yet another party that isn't the one they're after.

Amy and Molly do eventually make it to Nick's aunt's house, where their attempt to live it up generates butterflies, heartbreak, and a painful reevaluation of their friendship.

Wilde, who just like Lady Bird helmer Greta Gerwig is 35, has not always made the best of choices in film, from mainstream flops (Cowboys & Aliens, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) to prestige nonstarters like last year's Life Itself. Fortunately, though, she has made a solid pick for her feature debut behind the camera, which comes after directing a couple of music videos and shorts.

Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) make a mad drive to get to their graduation.

Wilde makes her foray into this tried and true coming-of-age genre with a smart script written by a quartet of women,
the TV-seasoned duo of Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins ("Trophy Wife", "Good Girls") and film veterans Susanna Fogel (The Spy Who Dumped Me) and Katie Silberman (Isn't It Romantic). Comedy has been nearly the exclusive domain of men for far too long and even within the realm of high school classics, there are few that have been told from a female perspective by female writers (Lady Bird, Amy Heckerling's Clueless, and the Tina Fey-adapted Mean Girls being the standout few exceptions).

Wilde and her four female writers have no difficulty illustrating that they're every bit as funny as men who have gotten opportunities to make these kind of movies before them. They also manage to inject their comedy with plenty of intellect. At times the wit on display here makes it feel like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were just drawing penises in notebooks. It is refreshing to have new voices giving us three-dimensional characters we really haven't seen before. Amy happens to be gay, something the film presents casually and tastefully. She's far from the only gay character here and the depictions are gladly free of cliches and stereotypes.

Of course, most people aren't choosing to see a teen comedy based on representation. The greatest value of interest here is entertainment and the movie does a better than average job of succeeding on that front. There isn't the proclivity for outrageousness that sets up movies like Superbad and Project X to fall short for some viewers. But make no mistake about it, this is still an R-rated comedy that isn't shy about featuring profanity and frank sexual discussion. Which, you know, is kind of an integral part of high school, as anyone who's been through it knows.

Booksmart almost certainly will not put up the kind of big box office numbers that Superbad did, but you've got to respect United Artists Releasing, the new banner under which Annapurna is joined by MGM, swinging for the fences with a wide Memorial Day Weekend release following weeks of savvy, buzz-generating advance screenings. It's agreeable counterprogramming that one hopes can pay off for UAR, which has not come out of the gates storming with Missing Link and The Hustle.

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Reviewed May 23, 2019.



Text copyright 2019 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2019 United Artists Releasing, Annapurna Pictures, and Gloria Sanchez Productions.
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