I saw the movie premiere of Booksmart back in March when I attended the South By Southwest Film Festival. Although I loved it, I was concerned that I was basking in the glow of being at the world premiere with the director and stars in attendance (humble brag). At the very least, I knew that I liked it enough to pay money to see it again. I did just that and I am happy to say that I loved it even more the second time around.
Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) star as best friends, Amy and Molly. Amy and Molly have spent high school with their heads in the books. They were determined to get into good colleges to set themselves up for the future. On the last day of school, however, they learn that they weren’t the only ones with that goal. The popular kids that they looked down on for partying all the time also got into those schools. They experienced the fun, social aspect of high school without any of the consequences that Amy and Molly had feared. The two decide that night, on the eve of graduation, that they will make up for their lost time. The best friends set out on a quest to have fun and experience, in one night, what they have been missing for the last four years.
“The best friends set out on a quest to have fun and experience, in one night, what they have been missing for the last four years.”
Booksmart has a classic high school comedy set-up but executes it in an entirely original way. This is due, in large part, to the people whose vision it comes from. It’s no secret that Hollywood is severely lacking in opportunities given to women behind the camera. Although the high school comedy sub-genre is, as a whole, better than most, it remains a culprit. Booksmart is different. Booksmart was written by four different women (Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman) and directed by Olivia Wilde. Wilde actually revealed at SXSW that once she joined the project, she made it a point to make the film female-led. Not just onscreen but off, also. From producing to editing to casting to set designing, this film was made by women. And the difference is not only apparent but it is refreshing.
For a movie that was inspired by so many that came before it, Booksmart is really good about avoiding cliches. The biggest example of this comes from the interaction between students. They talk about each other and they gossip, like many students. Despite that, they care about each other. This movie doesn’t feature the big, bad bullies and the nerds who are trying to impress them. There is a popular group but even the people who aren’t a part of that group still fit in. People intermingle, they talk to each other in class, they are excited when they see new faces at parties. It’s more fitting of high school than the movies that purposefully over-dramatize these dynamics in an effort to have clear protagonists. Booksmart has the lead characters that we follow throughout the night but we care about everyone by the end of it.
“For a movie that was inspired by so many that came before it, Booksmart is really good about avoiding cliches.”
I credit that to Allison Jones, the casting director. Allison Jones is the unsung hero of modern comedy. She has been discovering talent for over two decades and is the reason some of the most popular comedies of the 21st Century are as funny as they are. From top to bottom, this cast is incredible. Unlike most high school comedies, where the leads interact with interchangeable jock #1 and interchangeable popular girl #3, Booksmart makes every character feel important. The supporting cast is made up of comedy veterans (Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis) and newcomers (Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Eduardo Franco – just to name a very few). They all play off of each other so perfectly and so seamlessly. It feels like they have genuinely known each other all their lives and they have histories that dictate why they interact in the ways that they do.
Despite being surrounded by actors firing from all cylinders, the two leads find a way to separate themselves from the pack. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are stars. Both women are supremely talented. They are able to make you feel connected to these characters in a way that allows for more emotional moments to feel completely earned. You believe that they are best friends. After spending just a short time with them, you, too, feel like they are your best friends. You understand who they are and what they care about and that leads to genuinely touching moments, which can be hard to find in comedies. The confidence that they show in themselves and in their characters really shines. Both women have very long careers ahead of them and the movie-going public is better off because of it.
“From top to bottom, this cast is incredible. Unlike most high school comedies, where the leads interact with interchangeable jock #1 and interchangeable popular girl #3, Booksmart makes every character feel important.”
Even with an amazing cast, a movie needs a worthwhile screenplay to really hit. Booksmart does such a good job at interweaving its characters and situations in a logical way. Everyone feels like they belong. Each character is so fully formed that it is easy to imagine what they are doing when the story is not centered on their whereabouts. And the movie is just so funny. The dialogue is rapid, smart, and always pays off. Inconspicuous lines from the beginning of the movie have punchlines towards the end. Not to mention the way the film handles LGBTQ+ characters. It is such a respectful, progressive depiction that feels completely natural. That kind of care is not often taken in comedies. When it is, it stands out and this movie definitely stands out.
I could go on and on about why Booksmart is such a good movie. I won’t. But I could. It is the funniest movie I have seen this year and my favorite movie of the year so far. From its hilarious screenplay to its lovable characters played by committed actors, Booksmart has everything that a comedy needs to be successful. It is destined to become a classic. And rightfully so.
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