- Annapurna Pictures
- Olivia Wilde’s feature directing debut, “Booksmart” (out Friday), is a hilarious high-school comedy that will resonate with you.
- It is generation-defining and an instant classic.
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A high-school movie is done right when the moments and characters in the story are so authentic and genuine that the young people watching feel as if their lives were somehow put on film.
From “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and the John Hughes classics like “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” to more recent titles like “Mean Girls,” “Superbad,” and “Lady Bird,” what makes all these stand the test of time is that along with laughing at the absurdity of high school, there’s a truth to the material that stays with you.
And “Booksmart” (in theaters Friday) will soon enter that pantheon of essential high-school movies.
Olivia Wilde’s feature directing debut captures today’s over-stressed, hyper-aware high schoolers unlike anyone yet, and delivers a work that is filled with as much sincerity as constant laughs.
In the movie, we follow two overachievers – seniors Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) – on the day before graduation. As most of the students are counting down the hours until the school year is over, especially the seniors, Amy and Molly are still laser focused. Molly even wants to talk to the principal (who is as much over the school year as the kids are) about how to transition her senior class presidency to the incoming president.
- Annapurna Pictures
Needless to say, Amy and Molly are not liked by most of their classmates. That becomes even more evident when Molly overhears people talking about her in the bathroom. Molly thinks she has the ultimate comeback: that all their goofing off in high school got them nowhere while she is off to Yale in the fall. But she’s wrong.
Turns out one of the people she confronts is also going to Yale and another has a job at Google. In fact, every member of her graduating class who Molly thought was beneath her is going to an esteemed college. Molly is completely gobsmacked, and even Amy’s sweet tunes on an autoharp can’t sooth her.
Convinced she and Amy did high school all wrong, Molly decides they have to make it all up in one night by going to the big year-end house party. What transpires is a hilarious night of self-discovery.
If that all sounded similar to the last dozen high-school movies you’ve watched, you’re right; it’s not like you have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to this genre. But that’s also the huge challenge. Because the structure of the movies are often similar, you have to really be strong in the details to stand out.
And with “Booksmart,” here’s where it thrives:
- The strong supporting characters.
- The originality of the “last night out” story arc – from Amy’s parents allowing her to sleep over at Molly’s because they think the two are gay lovers, to the FOMO through social media as they plead with people to send them the address to the party.
- A stop-motion animation sequence that occurs when the girls take drugs, but really is a commentary on how society perceives beauty.
The movie doesn’t just have its pulse on what today’s youth are going through, it goes a step further: it is defining a generation.
Wilde’s clear vision makes the movie so entertaining you are sad to see it end. Beanie Feldstein follows up her great supporting role in “Lady Bird” with a strong lead performance here. Billie Lourd is a scene stealer in the role of party girl Gigi. And the talents of the all-female screenwriters made up of Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman – who perfectly capture high-school life – give the movie its soul.