Review: Booksmart

Two hyper-successful students decide the night before high school graduation needs to be given over to the fun times they’ve always denied themselves.

What’s Going On?

Molly and Amy are best friends and are also intelligent and studious high school students; probably destined for great things. Their view of the world is rocked upon learning that far less intelligent and studious people have still got into great colleges and they worry that they’ve missed their chance to have fun in high school. They decide to crash the party of one of the “popular” students and get the experiences they have missed out on.

Behind The Scenes

This is the first full-length feature directorial debut of well-known actor Olivia Wilde and to be honest that description would not have inspired much confidence in me but this is a lesson for me in making assumptions about people – as it’s a great film and for their debut, it is absolutely amazing. Wilde is clearly a very talented filmmaker and I’ll be eager to see whatever she makes next.

In Front Of The Camera

The casting of this film is sensational. The film stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as Amy and Molly, the almost-workaholic students who finally want to have some fun. They are both completely believable in these roles as well as utterly charming and instantly likeable. Most of the rest of the student cast were unknown to me, but all were similarly wonderful with the only potential misstep being the casting of Skyler Gisonda as rich-but-unpopular Jared. The problem with him is his role in The Santa Clarita Diet has racked up such goodwill I can’t take against him. The film also has Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s parents (surely one of the most prestigious sets of parents in all of comedy), Daily Show alumnus Jessica Williams as a cool teacher and Jason Sudeikis as a slightly troubling principal.

Does It Work?

I loved this film. First and foremost this is a comedy and I laughed throughout the film – from the nerdy interests of the main duo, their earnest goodness, the trying far too hard Jared who is only one step from actually bribing people to be his friend. But not only is this film funny, but it’s also clever, poignant and emotional. As someone who always tried very hard in school, I could identify with the main characters and probably held some of Molly’s views about the other students. Molly and Amy are also eager to show they are not just one thing – they are not just smart and want other people to realise that.

The friendship between Molly and Amy is incredibly endearing, even if, like with all friendships, there are problems and issues between them. Most of the other teenagers think the pair aren’t fun, they are, but usually just when they’re hanging out with each other. There is a recurring joke about when they get ready in front of each other and the increasingly over-the-top compliments they give each other which always made me smile.

Early on in the film, we learn that Amy is gay and this is not a secret, she is out with everyone. Much has been said recently about how for years if a film featured a young gay character it would be about the ordeal of being bullied, unloved by those who should love you, but we’ve reached a point where there can be stories about young gay people that are essentially your typical rom-com or teen movie stories and this is one of those films. Amy may face unrequited love (or maybe just unrequited crush), rejection, loneliness etc but that is just the standard teenage experience. This is not to say this would be true of every story of a gay teen growing up nowadays but fortunately, it was for Amy.

This is a high school film unlike any I have seen before and it makes some brilliant unusual moves. First of all, there aren’t really any bad guys in this film amongst the main characters and all the people who you think may have been positioned to be bad people actually turn out to be quite nice which is such a refreshing change. The jocks don’t stuff people into lockers. The popular girls don’t constantly undermine girls, not in their clique – in fact, it could be said this is something Molly is more guilty of. When actually given the chance to hang out with these people they all get along with many characters sincerely saying how happy they are to see these two girls having fun.

The more we get to know some of the more peripheral characters their worries, ambitions an insecurities are also unveiled meaning we start to like them more, none of the characters feel like they are slapdash stereotypes. Again the idea of not being put into a box, of not being defined by one aspect of who you are plays out with many of these characters. So many films, and I don’t just mean teen movies, have characters that are little more than two-word descriptions of their most obvious trait and that this film has tried so hard to make well-rounded characters is wonderful.

Overall this is a really enjoyable film that I would highly recommend for anyone to watch – you don’t have to be schoolwork-obsessed nerds like the main characters are (and I was) to appreciate this film. The film uses “booksmart” angle to be a bit different but it’s not just about overachieving and will be relatable for many people.


Also Read: Cinema Therapy: How Movies Can Heal

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Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.

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