‘Booksmart’ Review

Alexandra Petrache reviews Olivia Wilde’s anticipated directorial debut.

Director Olivia Wilde does “coming of age” effortlessly and hilariously funny. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are two best friends who have spent high school getting the highest honours and studying hard so that they could get into the best US colleges. On their last day of school, Molly realises that they could have also had some fun in the process and convinces (read: forces) Amy to go to one party and make up for the years of shunning their more sociable peers. They go on a fun – and often weird – journey,  find out things about themselves and one another, and bond with their classmates.

The concept itself is not original, but the delivery is. The characters feel fresh, curious and explorative; importantly, they have chemistry. Damn, I want to have a code word with my friends now! Every character introduced in Booksmart has their moment and their backstory – they are all in this together and they are all archetypes we meet in school. Putting everyone’s experiences on an equal footing allows the film a light hearted and natural approach to Amy’s sexuality, too. It is emphasised, but in the same way that every other character’s sexuality is (even teachers get their moment). And for once, this doesn’t seem like an American high-school experience on steroids; it feels relatable and, for someone who went to high school quite a few years ago, nostalgic.

Booksmart finds a natural comparison in Lady Bird (Beanie Feldstein plays the best friend in both). Where Lady Bird felt forced and precious, Booksmart felt natural from beginning to end. Sure, some of the situations the two friends go through seem a bit far-fetched, but they feel right – and so does the progression of the film, the character development, and even the “girl meets boy” part. It doesn’t tell things just for the sake of telling them, it doesn’t aim to be another “rebel without a cause” story or roll its eyes in pastel colours. It feels real, light-hearted and very, very enjoyable!

Written by four females and directed by one, Booksmart is feminist without even trying. Even though the two main characters are female and the film is peppered with supporting female characters, it doesn’t for a moment feel like they’re in it “for the sake of it”. It also has solid male supporting characters with their own stories and voices. As in Lady Bird, those male roles are acted well too. Skyler Gisondo’s Jared was brilliant. At times I was more interested in his character development than in that of the leads. He plays an apparently arrogant spoilt boy with an inane vulnerability that appears from time-to-time, making you wonder whether there is more to him than meets the eye (spoiler: there is).

Booksmart is also humble. For all it’s worth, I did feel that the film’s peaks were reaching some form of a plateau – even the most exciting or interesting moments were sometimes not given enough space to fully develop. This could have gone two ways: make the audience feel unsatisfied, gagged; or make us feel like these moments are part of life and they will pass, because the world doesn’t stop for anyone. I’d say it made me feel a bit of both.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart (2019)

Go see Booksmart. It is an absolute feel-good delight: happy, effervescent, and nostalgic. Every punchline lands effortlessly. Kudos to the writers: Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, and Katie Silberman.

This review was originally published here.

Booksmart is currently out in cinemas. Check out the trailer below:

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