Actress-turned-director Olivia Wilde breathes millennial life into the coming-of-age genre with Booksmart.
After overhearing a non-complimentary discussion about herself from a bathroom stall, straight-A student Molly (Beanie Feldstein) calmly confronts her fellow classmates. Unleashing a damning comeback by mocking their prospects and boasting of her future at a top college. Expectations of the genre create a false sense of security, as you gleefully wait to revel in the aftermath of our overachieving lead’s retaliation. However, instead of a rush of satisfaction, Molly is dealt a gut-punch as she learns of her rivals’ just as promising plans, despite not sacrificing their social life as she has.
As the thought of her wasted youth reverberates around Molly’s head, she tracks down fellow bookworm and best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). The pair decide to make up for lost time on the eve of their graduation and embark on a night of unforgettable antics.
While not judging a book by its cover has been a common thread in most coming-of-age films, perhaps most prominently in The Breakfast Club, Booksmart is without the John Hughes fluff and brazenly tackles its teenage mishaps. While Booksmart has been described by a few as the “female Superbad”, it’s almost a discredit to writers Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, who admirably hit refresh on well-trodden territory. With girls candidly talking about their sex life, the film’s closer to an adolescent Bridesmaids rather than a cheap gender-swap that would be more in line with Paul Feig’s later effort Ghostbusters.
While Booksmart may not have as strong of an emotional core as other recent female-led and driven coming-of-age films such as The Edge of Seventeen and Ladybird, its unrelenting humour is unparalleled. From crude and slapstick to the surreal, there’s something for everyone amongst the onslaught of laughs.
Lisa Kudrow is on top form as Amy’s understanding but naive mother, while Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo are delightful partners in crime Gigi and Jared. Feldstein and Dever are unsurprisingly the standouts and show off their comedic timing throughout, until an earth-shattering argument threatens to strain their friendship. It’s a painfully pivotal moment in which the film’s boisterous soundtrack (similar to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey) pauses and cinematographer Jason McCormick fixates as their bond slowly crumbles.
While other recent films have rigidly ticked boxes under pressure to be more inclusive, Booksmart effortlessly showcases the melting pot of misfits you’d find at most schools. Amy’s sexuality also isn’t given any special treatment as her discoveries are served with the same helping of awkwardness as her straight peers.
Firmly set in the 21st-century with smartphones, Lyfts and gender fluidity, the film playfully examines what it is to grow up when “the future is female”. From Molly’s amusing, militant morning routine, to the pair comically calling “Malala”, their code for unconditional support with no questions asked.
In a gratifying concluding speech, Olivia Wilde’s impressive debut provides a wonderful takeaway for this generation (and those observing it). Replacing contemporary buzz words with sincere words from the heart; see people for who they are, not what they are.