Since its premiere at South By Southwest Conference & Festivals in March, “Booksmart” has been touted as a potential comedy hit along the lines of “Superbad.” Although that is not an apples to apples comparisons, it had box office expectations commensurate with that 2007 flick. For a number of reasons, “Booksmart” did not find its audience in its opening weekend, but don’t let that fool you. This is a terrific movie.
It centers on best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two high achievers who did not party like most of their peers in high school. When they realize those same classmates also got into the prestigious schools or jobs they wanted, the duo heads out to have all their high school fun in one night.
The best part about “Booksmart” is the leads, both of whom are outstanding. Feldstein and Dever share brilliant chemistry, have perfect comedic timing and delivery and bring depth and authenticity to their roles. These should mark breakout performances for the actresses.
Feldstein and Dever are both relative unknowns, and the same can be said, at least in this role, for first-time director Olivia Wilde, who does a fantastic job. The choices she makes are a key part of keeping the film fresh and unpredictable, which is a must in this well-worn teen partying/coming-of-age genre. She employs techniques including stop-motion animation, tracking shots, long takes and slow motion to help tell this story in ingenious ways.
Wilde also makes great choices for the soundtrack, which is phenomenal. It helps the comedy and makes the film more fun because the music is upbeat and humorous.
The same can be said of the superb screenplay by Katie Silberman, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins. Their writing does so much to freshen up this trite story because of the nuances in the lead characters, how supporting characters can somewhat break out of their stereotype and the turns this narrative takes. Against all odds, “Booksmart” feels unpredictable and new.
It’s also hysterical, which helps cover a multitude of sins. The jokes come fast in this movie, with a high percentage of them landing. And it’s different kinds of gags, too, including big punch lines, visual jokes and throwaway lines. All that humor has an entertaining mix of vulgarity and realism to it.
The one real downside of the film is the emotional moments work fine, but they could have been more effective. We are invested in Molly and Amy and rooting for them, feeling sad, happy or proud of them at the right moments, but never to a particularly high degree. The feeling is never as strong as it needs to be to deliver the wallop the film aims for.
But that’s a minor problem overall. More importantly, “Booksmart” is an inventive take on this genre that boasts tremendous acting, directing and screenwriting. Unless this is a very strong year indeed, it will surely rank as one of 2019’s best films. I give it four out of five stars.
“Booksmart” is rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking – all involving teens. It stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever and runs 1 hour and 42 minutes.