This year at South-By-Southwest Olivia Wilde’s new movie “Booksmart” had its world premiere. If that wasn’t enough, it was also her birthday and the whole Paramount Theatre, packed to the last of the 1100 seats, sang “Happy Birthday” along with the cast. She won’t ever forget that evening and the audience won’t forget her film either, because she delivered nothing less than a cult movie for the millennial generation.
Remember the feeling when the semester is over, you got an A on every assignment, you did every extra credit possible, but suddenly you realize you spent the whole time in the library and missed out on all the fun activities throughout the year? No? Well, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) do. As a result of their epiphany, they decide to do anything possible to attend the last party before graduation, where they believe all their dreams would become true. Of course it isn’t that easy, and the two besties have to encounter and overcome several troubles on their new path as wannabe party animals.
12 years after “Superbad,” which was coincidentally Jonah Hill’s (Feldstein’s brother) career-starter, it is refreshing to see how the genre evolved. Just as a discussion arises about how appropriate the sex-driven high school comedy still is in the times of #metoo and female empowerment, Olivia Wilde steps in and gives the millennial generation their own “Breakfast Club” or “Ten Things I Hate about You,” and she enriches the well-known formula with some refreshing changes.
Now the two girls that have to get through all kinds of ridiculous adventures to achieve their goal, and in another surprising twist, they’re not the only ones lined up for elite universities. Introduced as slackers and party animals, Molly and Amy’s classmates managed it to have fun AND get top scores on their SAT tests. As it turns out, they care about school, just not ONLY about school as Amy and Molly did.
This film is not primarily sex-driven like most teen-based movies, but that doesn’t mean sexuality is not present – it’s an adolescent high school comedy after all! Amy came out as a lesbian, which no one thinks is anything special, including her parents played by Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte. She has a huge crush on one of the girls at school, and Molly is also eyeing a classmate, while half the class is dreaming about their hot teacher. But it’s not simply about hooking up as quickly as possible, as there are some worthwhile lectures on the way, and the journey becomes the reward.
First-time director Wilde does everything right: from overworking the script, to finding the perfect cast, and also her film-making skills are exquisite. Whatever happens, she and her DP Jason McCormick make it look beautiful culminating in a fantastic long shot of the inevitable escalation of the party, and the comedy is perfectly balanced between the witty dialogue and the hilarious physical comedy of the two leads, who perfectly portray their young friendship as if they were teenage “Golden Girls.” Last year at SXSW, multi-talent Wilde prove to be an actress that can handle a tough and physical role in “A Vigilante”, and this year she shows how much she learned from her time in front of the camera to direct a film on her own. She is clearly in her element.
What makes this movie stand out among other high school comedies is also the portrayal of teenage angst. Insecurities about friendship, sexuality, career, or popularity are shown in a very realistic yet funny way. You can laugh, but you’re also reminded of how it was when you were that age. Being a teenager can be hard, and it doesn’t get any easier.
Olivia Wilde struck a nerve with her debut, and the standing ovations at the premiere underline this. “Booksmart” is a hilarious and well-written teenage comedy that makes you laugh without the use of fart jokes or cheap humor. It is heartfelt and truly funny but also refreshingly grown up and has something to say, and more than once it surprises with characters, that go way beyond the usual comedy tropes. The millennials will love the wholesome portrayal of their generation, and the adults will get reminiscent about their own youth (and maybe some missed-out parties) – this film is truly for everyone! That is, except for children of course, since “Booksmart’ will be rated R for language, some sexual content and one scene of drug use, which is one of the funniest moments of the movie, but see for yourself!
Booksmart (2019); Directed by Olivia Wilde, Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman; Cinematography by Jason McCormick; With Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Billie Lourd, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudekis; R-rated; 105 min