Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart is a funny, coming-of-age romp. It’s a combination of Superbad meets Mean Girls (if you took out every scene in Mean Girls, but the debate team subplot). The relationship between the two main characters Amy (played by Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein) is hilarious, warm, and feminist af. The movie’s only flaw is that despite being related to college admissions, it frustratingly sidesteps the issue of classism. You’ll probably be too busy laughing your ass off to care, though.
Set in California, the film is about two bookish high schoolers who learn on the last day of school that all their slacker peers also got into prestigious schools (i.e., their peers got to party during high school and go to Yale). Amy and Molly consequently decide to live it up before they miss out on high school parties for good. This leads to a wild night where they bounce from eccentric party to eccentric party.
It cannot be overstated how funny this film is. The chemistry between the leads is infectious. Some of the best one-liners are adlibbed exclamations that Amy and Molly yell at one another. The closing line of the film is an upbeat “Fuck Yeah,” which should give you an indication of the speed and energy in which this film operates. Everything is moving a mile-a-minute in large part due to the character Molly, whose uptight personality has her trying to maximize the most out this final night of partying (She’ll get that A+ Goddamnit).
It bears mentioning that co-lead Amy is an openly queer character. Her queerness isn’t presented as a dramatic coming-out story, but matter-of-factly, which is refreshing. She has an adorkable crush on the character Ryan (played by Victoria Ruesga). Ryan is definitely more masc-presenting, and it’s fantastic and brave that the film cast them this way. It avoids the “lesbians for the male gaze” trope that you typically see with more male-centric production teams.
While romance abounds throughout the film, the emotional core is Amy and Molly’s friendship. The beats of the film center around how they feel about one another. The underlying tension of Booksmart revolves, not around obtaining a girl or boy, as it would traditionally be in a male comedy, but on how they are going to deal with no longer physically being there for each other in the same space and time. Without giving anything away, there is a brutal fight near the end of the film that makes you think about the fragility of friendships in general.
As moving and fun as Amy and Molly are, however, it’s the side characters who truly steal the show. There is a gay (couple?) theater duo, played by The Real O’Neal’s Noah Galvin and up-and-comer Austin Crute, who bicker like an elderly couple. The amount of sass they give each other, as well as everyone else, seriously deserves a movie of its own.
There are also the wealthy “1 percenters” Jared (played by The Santa Clarita Diet’s Skyler Gisondo) and Gigi (played by Billie Lourd of…do I really need to explain who Carrie Fisher’s daughter is?) who are so out of touch with reality that they are presented as bumbling idiots. Gigi, in particular, has a bit where she mysteriously appears places, and her scenes are hands down some of the funniest in the entire film.
Seriously, Olivia Wilde could make a career just by giving the side characters in Booksmart their own movies.
The only nagging criticism is that the premise is quite classist. Molly’s character is the sole student we see who doesn’t live in a large house or mansion. We never see her parents. She appears to have had to get through high school academically by willpower alone.
When it’s suggested early on in the film that Molly could have gotten into Yale and also had fun during high school because that’s what her fellow rich students did, this seemed incredibly unfair. The college admission process is far from meritocratic, and it’s skewed inequitably towards rich people’s favor (cough, cough the entire concept of legacy students).
In other words, there might be another reason besides grades for why Gigi got into Harvard — an institution where a third of the current class is made up of legacy students. Not that Gigi isn’t amazing, but her hot mess definitely got help from Daddy Hamilton and Pappa Franklin.
This felt like a missed opportunity. There is a scene near the end of Booksmart where Molly, who is the school valedictorian, gives an impromptu speech on everything she’s learned, and it basically amounts to her saying that all her fellow students are amazing already and will do just fine in college. Although that might be true for her particular student body, it’s not a reality for the majority of students who will enter college, many of whom will struggle with figuring out how to feed themselves on top of graduating on time.
This one problem aside you should still see Booksmart because it’s funny, compelling, and judging it for not “deconstructing classism” would be holding it to a higher standard than most comedies, a lot of which are just misogynistic men farting (see Adam Sandler’s entire career).
At the heart of Booksmart is two female friends learning to love each other as they undergo a major life change. We need more stories like this. We need young girls to know that it’s okay to have stories that are not centered on men. Stories that are both profoundly intimate and 100% platonic.
You should see this film for its fantastic message.
You should also see it because it’s damn hilarious.
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