Jacob Richardson | 10/07/2019
A hilarious coming of age comedy, and an effervescent directorial debut from Olivia Wilde.
Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are studious high schoolers on the eve of their graduation. Molly is shocked when she finds out that the classmates she avoided like the plague, certain of their inferiority, for the past few years have not only got into good colleges, but have had a tonne of fun while doing it. Feeling cheated, she convinces Amy to join her at the party of the year that evening - a party that they find not so easy to locate.
Thus ensues a frequently funny, and oftentimes emotionally wrenching, buddy film. On the funny side, there are a number of scenes that will stay with you for days and weeks afterwards; from witty banter between our main duo, to aux cord mishaps in an uber with their Principal (Jason Sudeikis). It builds to an emotional climax between the two leads that is deeply affecting without ever losing sight of the entertainment value.
Much of this is down to the performances of the two leads. Dever is intensely likeable as the overly cautious, and frequently trodden on, friend in tow. She is the perfect straight man to Feldstein’s OTT valedictorian. Feldstein absolutely plays to extremes at certain points, clad in a tall turtleneck and preppy blazer; the epitome of high school nerd pushed to the edge. But she also knows when to dial it back, and that’s incredibly important in the emotional, dramatic work. She is constantly a joy to watch, but her dramatic work is particularly remarkable.
That balance also evidences in the directorial work from Olivia Wilde. Wilde blends the funny with the intensely dramatic with such ease you forget her relative inexperience behind the camera. She ties it all together with this intrinsic mesh of her understanding of the two lead characters and their distinctly relatable, honest relationship. It feels real because she brings a sense of truth to it. That truth elevates what may otherwise be a relatively standard, structurally unambitious coming of age film. Like Ladybird before it, Booksmart hits on something that transcends the craft on display on the screen; it gives us two hours of truth, packaged up in an undeniably entertaining vehicle.
Booksmart is a must see coming of age comedy that intersperses the funny with deep insight.