Olivia Wilde’s directorial feature debut could have easily been the gender-flipped version of “Superbad” with lame jokes and crude humor. However written by four females who understand what teenage comedies have been missing, inject “Booksmart” with wit, savvy and quotable dialogue. As an actress Wilde has been hit or miss when it comes to comedy, less has always been more with her. She takes a few notes from Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” and one of its stars but makes “Booksmart” its own thing. The biggest similarity is Beanie Feldstein, given the main role here instead of a supporting one. Not just comedy, the script offers social criticism blended with sarcasm in a way that’s never obvious and always entertaining.
Molly (Feldstein) is the girl who tries harder than everyone else, believes sacrifice is the key to empowerment and reward. She will be going to Yale in the fall. She is the valedictorian of her 2019 class and days before graduation, is hit with a hard reality: Classmates who partied, dated and had fun are also going to Yale and other prestigious schools. “We messed up. They did both,” she confesses to her lifelong best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). Amy, a quiet, but proud lesbian, is content with her life and not attending parties or doing anything illegal. Always the follower to Molly’s direction, both girls decide they have one night to enjoy what everyone else has been doing for 4 years of high school. They will pursue their crushes, lie to their parents and attend the types of parties they have always turned their educated noses up at.
It takes a lot to make me laugh, stupidity doesn’t work for my sense of humor. So when I tell you I laughed multiple times throughout “Booksmart”, know they were well-earned laughs. The praise should be heaped on the screenwriters as much as the director, finding those beats that are often ridiculous yet diverting. “Booksmart” finds harmony between female empowerment and simply being an energizing, fun comedy that never once feels like it’s preaching or taking any sort of stand. If “Lady Bird” was about one character’s self-discovery in the final moments of high school, “Booksmart” is more about re-evaluating what you think you know and accepting that you were wrong. It’s a film that can leave everyone from mature teenagers (it is rated R after all) to adults with something to grow on.
The story is fully focused and dedicated to the friendship of Molly and Amy, however the supporting characters are so cleverly conceived that you delight every time they pop up and does Gigi (Billie Lourd) every pop up! Every appearance she makes is a continual running gag that’s funnier than the last. Diverse characters make up the cast where skin color, sexuality or interests never define who they are. Skyler Gisondo’s Jared is another supporting role that can’t be classified within any high school comedy released previously, in fact, most of these characters feel like brand new creations instead of the usual tired tropes. The editing and progression of the movie never stalls, it’s always compelling with it’s ability to surprise you every time they take one interesting Lyft ride to another location. Feldstein’s performance and the hilarity of the picture is one that warrants multiple views.
“Booksmart” is the creative, sassy, witty and entertaining teenage comedy we didn’t realize we were missing.