Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut with this coming of age comedy with a script from Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. It follows a very simple concept: What if two girls who’ve been friends for life realized that they did high school all wrong? What if everyone that they looked down on because all they did was party and waste their high-school years also made it into Ivy League schools?
Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (who has shined in Neighbors 2, Ladybird and the TV version of What We Do In the Shadows) were cast as the two leads, living together as roommates for ten weeks so that they could build the relationship necessary to make their relationship feel authentic. If Feldstein feels familiar, her brother is Jonah Hill, which makes sense, as many have pegged this movie as a female empowered Superbad. Trust us — it can stand on its own.
Amy and Molly (Dever and Feldstein) are considered pretentious by their hard-partying high school peers and even their principal (Jason Sudeikis, Wilde’s husband who turns in a great performance as always). And even though Molly came out to her parents two years ago — Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte in a deft cameo that he has some hints of pathos — she hasn’t dated a girl yet.
The day before they graduate, Molly learns the truth: every single one of the students they’ve avoided has done just as well — or better — than them when it comes to college placement. They decide to make their last night together before Amy goes to do volunteer work in Africa one to remember. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.
The true beauty of Booksmart is that it combines realistic warmth with over the top bawdy humor. It also has characters that are multilayered and defy easy characterization. Jared may be a vapid rich kid, but he wants to be so much more. Gigi (Billie Lourd, the daughter of Carrier Fisher) may live for drugs, but she can also see into peoples’ hearts. Even Annabelle, who has been set up as the villain of the story, ends up being a friend to the girls when they really need it. And Mike O’Brien, the creator of the now-canceled A.P. Bio and a former Saturday Night Live cast member, has an awesome small part as a pizza guy caught up in the machinations of our heroines.
The music is non-stop and punctuates so much of the film and is put together by the legendary Dan the Automator, who produced Dr. Octagon and the Gorillaz. It’s perfect for the film.
Booksmart pulls off what I believed impossible: a bawdy, belligerent and yet intelligent and endearing teen comedy somehow made in a year where things get censored by the very young people who should be pushing the envelope.