In a slight diversion from the norm, it’s fair to say that many of the high profile ‘coming of age’ tales in cinema over the last year have been focused on much younger characters that we have been used to before. Both Eighth Grade and Mid90s, two films that I absolutely loved, featured protagonists no older than 13, but here with Booksmart we are going back to a much more traditional ‘senior year’ type vibe, one that lends itself so perfectly to teenage shenanigans of the highest order.
A film that make Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart tells the story of Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), two best friends who, upon realising that they have ostracised themselves from their peers by over-focusing on their studies for their entire high school careers, set out to have one wild and epic night on the eve of graduation.
Here’s the thing, that synopsis may very well put you in the frame of mind of dozens of high school movies of the past, but I’m here to say that Booksmart is a refreshing modern genre classic all of its own. Audiences are treated to raucous party scenes, to awkward sexual encounters, to a wonderful mixture of slapstick and dry humour, but what sets this film apart from the rest in its class is a truly wonderful examination of female friendship. Outside of the expected romantic entanglements and crushes that always seem to accompany of a high school movie, Booksmart is essentially a love story between two best friends, and a really relatable look at the way that your BFF can also sometimes be the person that causes the most stress and drama in your life. Nothing quite turns on a dime twenty times in a day like a close female friendship, it is simultaneously the most comforting and anxiety inducing thing in the world and this movie displays that perfectly.
From Molly overhearing her peers talk disparagingly about her from a bathroom stall to Amy haphazardly attempting to engage in her first sexual experience with the hottest girl in class, there are moments in Booksmart that will have you cringing so hard that you want to disappear in to your seat, but these moments are delicately and importantly interspersed between comedic sequences that are genuinely, effortlessly laugh out loud funny. It’s clear to see that there is a razor sharp intelligence in the writing, even lines and sequences played for ‘dumb’ comedy feel elevated in some way. This is the kind of teen comedy that will find its audience in the more ‘woke’, liberal population among us. You’ll know exactly what I mean when I tell you that Molly’s bedroom walls are covered with pictures of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama, not to mention multiple script name checks of the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Rose Parks and Susan B. Anthony.
The more I think about Booksmart the more I love it, because it is a quintessential teen comedy that executes all of the tropes you know and love, but it does so at every turn with a knowing, subversive eye.
As Amy and Molly, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are pretty much the teen comedy dream team. Feldstein is the louder presence of the pair, initially portraying Molly as a classic, uptight valedictorian type but gradually unappealing the layers of a really entertaining character. We all have a friend like Molly, and we all love and hate them in equal measure, you’ll know exactly what I mean when you see it!
Kaitlyn Dever as Amy is the Simon to Molly’s Garfunkel, a quieter, more shy companion who brings balance to the friendship. It might seem like quite an insignificant detail, but there is something about a gay character in a coming of age film whose story doesn’t completely revolve around the premise of sexual awaking and coming out that feels really refreshing. The film showcases just as much tension between the two girls as it does fun and frolic, and it does so in such a natural feeling way that the relationships feels completely relatable.
Good chemistry between the two protagonists is absolutely vital in a close friendship film like this, and Dever and Feldstein absolutely nail it from start to finish. They had me almost crying with laughter at points and absolutely crying with emotion at others. Honestly, I could watch an entire series of movies featuring these characters on their post graduate life adventures.
There are too many supporting characters to give full attention to in the film, but the likes of Billie Lourd, Skyler Grisondo, Jason Sudeikis and Jessica Williams are all fantastic in their smaller roles. When Lisa Kudrow shows up for literally four or five lines worth of dialogue, you know your in for a top quality cast experience.
Overall, I’m pretty confident in stating that Booksmart is going to end up on plenty of people’s best of the year lists. It’s a high school comedy for a new generation, fast, funny and feminist without coming across as snobby or elitist in any way. It’s an absolutely perfect example of a film that can have elevated ideas within a genre that can traditionally be quite base. A film that offers a whale of a time whilst also allowing you moments to really think, definitely one of my favourites of 2019.