Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams with Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut “Booksmart” encapsulates the highs and lows of adolescence during that awkward period in life just past childhood but shy of adulthood, “High School.” The hilarious film about two academic besties who realize on the day before graduation that the precautions they took over the last four years were for nothing, rises to the top of the class with fantastic performances by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. “Superbad” meets “Ferris Bueller’s Days Off” in this smart, funny, and honest comedy that is easily one of the best films of the year.
Every generation has that one film that defines the high school experience for many. Richard Linklater’s “Dazed & Confused” captured the 70s, “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” characterized the 80s while Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless” tuned into the 90s and “Mean Girls” represented the 2000s. Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart” is both smart and funny as the film taps into the psyche of a 17-year old with such accuracy that the laughs come at the expense of life. We can all relate to the vivid characters created by Emily Halpern, Susanna Fogel, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman in this up to date representation of high school.
For the last four years, class president Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and her gay best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have spent each day applying themselves to their studies with one goal in mind, to get into the college of their choice. Their strategy paid off as Molly prepares to attend Yale in the fall while Amy is headed to Columbia after a charity mission to Botswana that involves making tampons for the indigenous women. I love how Wilde’s protagonists are brainy, confident, and funny as opposed to the geeky, nerdy stereotype who eats boogers. Ah, the evolution of the teenage academic.
Now speaking of going against stereotype, the film’s turning point takes place in the gender-neutral restroom as Molly gets distracted from repairing the grammatically incorrect graffiti in the stall after overhearing some classmates gossiping about her. Molly bursts out to lecture the “losers” about wasting their lives while she attends Yale but as it turns out Theo (Eduardo Franco), the stoner guy, has just landed a six-figure job working at Google and Triple A (Molly Gordon), the girl with the worst reputation in school, has also been accepted into Yale. Bam! After the initial shock wears off Molly realizes that she and Amy missed the party boat. All those years spent focusing solely on school were wasted as she tells Amy “We are not one-dimensional.” “We are smart and fun.” So, they decide to do four years of partying in just one night!
Feldstein (Saoirse Ronan’s BFF in “Lady Bird”) and Dever (“Short Term 12” “Outside In”) are dynamite together as they spend the 24 hours before graduation living it up, going from one party to the next. The two are supported by a zany group of characters that include lonely obnoxious rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo) who goes around saying “Can I get a womp womp?” and sexy skater girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) who catches Amy’s eye, drama queens Alan (Austin Crute) and George (Noah Galvin) who have an idea to do Shakespeare in the Park-ing Lot, but by far the best supporting actor award goes to Billie Lourd (Carrie Fisher’s daughter) as the exuberant and eccentric Gigi, a rich girl with a zest for life who befriends Molly and Amy.
The rest of the supporting cast includes Wilde’s fiancé SNL alum Jason Sudeikis as Principal Brown, “The Daily Show’s” Jessica Williams as teacher Ms. Fine who has been banned from Jamba Juice, Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s loveable parents, and a cameo by SNL’s Mike O'Brien as Pat the Pizza Guy.
“Booksmart” is an estrogen-fueled “Superbad” and one of this year’s best films. Wilde’s directorial debut is a refreshing coming-of-age story that goes against stereotypes thanks to the multi-layered characters. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein get my vote for the best onscreen duo of 2019.