What do you get when you take the raunchy, over the top high school hijinks of “Superbad” with the sincerity and coming-of-age nuances of “Love, Simon”? It appears you get Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, “Booksmart.” Though Wilde has spent years in the spotlight, acting in a variety of blockbuster films, she has decided now to try her hand at directing motion pictures, and the result is nothing less than brilliant.
The charming story follows two best friends, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), at the end of their senior year of high school. As they prepare to head off to prestigious Ivy League universities, they come to the realization that they have spent the last four years sacrificing any semblance of a personal life in the pursuit of getting into a good school. Upon Molly discovering that her classmates whom she always considered less-than were all going to great schools as well, she decides that she and Amy need to go out to a party the night before they graduate.
The similarities in the plot synopsis sounds a lot like that of “Superbad,” but what plays out couldn’t be more different.
Off the bat, while “Superbad” leans heavily into its one-dimensional characters and their obsession with sex, “Booksmart” instead focuses on the journey of friendship and self-discovery. Sure, both Amy and Molly are pursuing people, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) and Nick (Mason Gooding) respectively, but the focus is on the dynamic between the two friends. This is one of the many places in which this film thrives. The chemistry between the leads and the heartwarming bond the characters share is not only believable but loveable. It brought me back to days spent with my best friends in high school, sharing stupid jokes that no one but us cared about. All of the performances in this movie were impressive, whether they were in serious or comedic moments. Every member of the cast brought their A-game, and Wilde knew how to channel it.
Additionally, all of the teenage characters in this film have their moments to shine and manage to not fall into the trap of being one-dimensional. There’s the try-hard, Jared (Skyler Gisondo), a kid who rolls around in a flame-painted car and shares a weird but fascinatingly funny bond with Gigi (Billie Lourd), who exists as a mystical, confusing presence who seems to hop around the universe of the movie to confusingly push the characters in the right direction.
Then there’s Triple A (Molly Gordon) and Hope (Diana Silvers), who also poke and prod the protagonists to move the plot along, but manage to have some depth as the story unfolds. It feels as though every character in the film returns and has some bigger part to play in the journey of our two heroes.
Technically, the film is very impressive. John McCormick’s cinematography blends perfectly with Wilde’s directing style. The lighting is warm and the comedy is all shot well. Often, the serious moments are punctuated by interesting filming techniques like a series of long shots as Amy swims through a pool or a longer single shot that rotates around the protagonists in an intense scene that stands out.
The script is honest and sincere while still being bitingly clever and ridiculous in all the right moments. It’s always refreshing to see high schoolers written like high schoolers, especially when they’re girls. Girls in high school movies tend to take back seats or be reduced to stereotypes, so seeing these characters so fully fleshed out and realized is impactful. It reminds me of last year’s film “Blockers,” which I loved, but “Booksmart” manages to surpass it in all of the places that it needed to.
On top of being beautifully shot and wonderfully written, it was just a blast to watch. Every aspect of this film takes the audience on a journey through this seminal, life-changing moment that so many of us go through. This is strongly underscored by the amazing soundtrack. Featuring tracks by Anderson .Paak, Cautious Clay, Lizzo, Run the Jewels, Death Grips, LCD Soundsystem and Alanis Morissette. It’s eclectic but in an era where music is supremely accessible to young people, it feels appropriate to have such a diverse, energetic and fun soundtrack.
This film is like a buddy-cop version of “Lady Bird,” and it’s obvious that every person who worked on it put in an immense amount of love and care into the project. I can’t recommend seeing this film enough. In 2019, this is the kind of film that is important to see succeed, and I think it will.