Booksmart is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and she shines. She revives the familiar raunchy teen comedy thanks with a solid script and by getting dynamic performances from the cast. It is indeed a laugh a minute film that stays grounded in the friendship of the two main characters. Beanie Feldstein plays the strident Molly, class valedictorian headed to Yale. Kaitlyn Dever portrays Amy, Molly’s best friend, shy, quiet and a lesbian who is attending Columbia after doing service work in Africa.
It’s a familiar set up. Molly is shocked to discover that the students she dismissed as slackers in for partying also got into top colleges. “We care about school and partying,” a popular girl tells Molly when she expressed her shock that the popular girl is also attending Yale. The high school students Molly and Amy judged as slackers who didn’t care about school will also attend elite universities or start a sweetheart gig in Silicon Valley. And now the two nerds want to attend the popular kids’ party the night before graduation, if they can only find it. Their crusade to make it to the party reminded this reviewer of Superbad (2007) or American Pie (1999) but the similarities end there. The rapport between Molly and Amy parallel Bridesmaids (2011) – hilarious, supportive and honest – and Wilde keeps the focus on the coming-of-age and how Molly and Amy are going to navigate the changes in their lives they’ve worked so hard for.
Wilde created a supporting cast of characters that are each memorable but don’t steal the limelight from Molly and Amy. Going beyond stereotypes, she embraces distinction and exaggeration among the secondary characters. Billie Lourd has a minor yet memorable role as Gigi, a capricious gal who turns up wherever Molly and Amy go. Jared (Skyler Gisondo), wealthy, socially awkward student and Gigi’s handler, tries to buy friendship yet clueless with what to give his classmates. The t-shirts with pictures of his face on them? Not so much.
Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte play Amy’s parents, devoted to their daughter, they awkwardly support her sexual orientation and “relationship” with Molly. Jason Sudeikis plays the assistant principal who cannot wait for the year to be over. His side hustle leads to a disconcerting encounter with Molly and Amy. Jessica Williams plays their favorite teacher, Ms. Fine, who encourages them to have fun before college.
Wilde’s excellent scene timing and occasional use of an odd wardrobe work to create a feel that’s sometimes cartoonish but believable. There’s some great scenes that are trope-like but feel fresh, hilarious and unexpected. When Gigi tells Molly and Amy that she slipped them a drug, which leads to the pair of goody two-shoes freaking out and imagining themselves as Barbies.
What this reviewer enjoyed is the friendship between Molly and Amy. They are at times brutally honest with each other but always supportive and lifting each other up. That relationship, the memorable secondary characters and the solid script and direction work together to create a film that’s funny, moving and honest.
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