Actress Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut with the witty and charming Booksmart from United Artists Releasing. Lifelong friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have spent their high school career overachieving in the field of academics. The girls’ classmates find them to be pretentious and do not associate with them. One day during a bathroom break, Molly overhears one of her rivals Annabelle (Molly Gordon) bad mouthing her and takes the moment to stand up for herself. Molly is shocked to discover that Annabelle is attending the same university as Molly in the upcoming fall. Annabelle informs Molly that there is more to life than school, and that you can still have fun and make good grades. Molly convinces Amy that they need to attend a pre-graduation party to make up for lost time.
Booksmart is sure to draw comparisons to 2007’s Superbad because both films involve less popular kids looking to party before they graduate. Ironically, Booksmart’s lead actress Beanie Feldstein was the little sister of Jonah Hill, who starred in Superbad. While there are some valid comparisons between Superbad and Booksmart, the films are also very different. Superbad is more of a straight forward in your face comedy, while Booksmart is more heartfelt.
One of the key strengths in Booksmart is the chemistry between Amy and Molly. I can easily see Booksmart being the breakout role for both Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. From the moment they appear on screen together, it’s magic. The actresses both possess a talent behind their years– highlighting a shining personality that avoids undermining their easily discernible flaws. Dever’s character is an out lesbian, but Dever never makes her into a stereotype or caricature. On the other side, the character of Molly could have easily had attributes of a foul-mouthed slob. Instead, Feldstein highlights Molly as strong, confidant woman who has worked hard to get to where she is and has no problem enjoying her success.
While Booksmart is generally a showcase for the talents of Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, the supporting cast are also good in their limited roles. Jason Sudeikis portrayed the principal while podcast host Jessica Williams had some great moments as one of the teachers. I would have to say that my favorite supporting characters were Gigi (Billie Lourd) and Jared (Skyler Gisondo). These characters are best friends who the girls run into throughout the night. I would not mind a spin off focusing on the duo.
For her directorial debut, Oliva Wilde and her screenwriting team comprised of Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogell, and Katie Silberman have created an excellent coming-of-age film. Wilde’s direction gave the film an indie feel with its lighting choices and cinematography. I appreciated the screenplay’s modernized feel with its highlight on social media, however, the script is so strong that the screenwriters could have easily set the film in the eighties and had the same result.
In hindsight, Booksmart is more than a gender swap take on Superbad. While both are coming-of-age films for their time, Booksmart beautifully highlights the bond of female friendship with heart, laughs, and empowerment.
Final Grade: B+