“Booksmart” takes us into the lives of best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they find themselves, on the eve of their high school graduation, having to face a monumental crisis of their adolescence. They have come to the rude awakening that, despite all their hard work and academic application, many of their year group, who appeared only to party and disregard school, were going onto collages and positions just as good as theirs. Molly, realising tonight is their final chance to live what they have squandered, convinces Amy to attend their first and last high school party together. The two then firmly grasp the curtails of their youth and journey through discovery on both a personal level and together as friends.
With only a fundamental knowledge of key moments of self-discovery, for instance, love and heartbreak, Amy and Molly are forced to experience them before our eyes. As they do, it changes them, at their core, they are the same smart and strong characters introduced to us, but now they have exponentially grown emotionally. They realise they have deeply held misconceptions of their cohort and each other.
They viewed them solely through distasteful eyes, with Molly, in particular, looking down on them. It is the resolutions which come from recognising their peers are much deeper people that is really what the story is all about, and it is wonderful. This story is the major strength of “Booksmart”, it has all the stereotype subversion of “The Breakfast Club” and combines it with all the modern hilarity of “Superbad”. This combo will see “Booksmart” go on to be the hallmark of a generation and will stand as the perfect encapsulation of what so many teens are experiencing right now.
The four screenwriters for “Booksmart”, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, have written a pitch-perfect script that is hilarious, heartbreaking and uplifting all the way through. It is one of the finest articulations of growing up to be released this decade. Amy and Molly learn about themselves in a quickfire, often over the top manner, which proved to be the best way to go about capturing the numerous valuable experiences they missed out on.
This direction allows the film to play as a checklist of awkward and hilarious teenaged moments, yet crucially it never loses touch with the overarching story it is creating. The basics of the experience may be familiar, but with its stirring cast of endearing characters “Booksmart” feels profoundly original. It also must be said that the depiction of friendship here is beautiful in its complexity. Various characters intertwine in unique and heartfelt ways that form a thoroughly empathetic experience. It has been done countless times before, but this reminder to not judge a book by its cover is one of the best.
Dever and Feldstein were the ideal choices to be the stars of this film. They come into “Booksmart” as blank canvases and flourish under the weight of the narrative. Both dazzle in their approach in capturing this growth of their characters, and it is their realistic depiction of the trials of being 18 that make this movie as mesmerising as it is in its best moments. From heartbreak to euphoria each of them nails it, with neither missing a beat transitioning from the comedic first half to the dramatic and heartfelt finale. These performances are good enough to launch their careers even further, and I have no doubt we will be seeing more of them very soon.
The rest of the ensemble are also shining lights, with the whimsical Billy Lourd as “Gigi” and the hilariously dorky Skyler Gisondo as “Jared” both being standouts in what is a flawlessly cast movie. Without these side characters providing such a vivid depiction of experiencing high school ‘properly’ than “Booksmart” would not work on any level as Amy and Molly would not be able to learn anything believably. It is no easy task to capture what can be such a personal experience, but every actor involved delivers an authentic and hilarious performance that will well and truly stand the test of time.
None of this would be possible without Olivia Wilde, who has made the most of her directorial debut. Her eye for capturing her stars in their moments of emotional evolution is stunning. During the second half, “Booksmart” delivers a breathtaking depiction of sexuality and relationships within the context of one final party. The atmosphere in this portion of the film, as well as the sheer amount of emotion poured into it, is mesmerising. It is the most poignant portion of the film with the most to say, and Wilde goes on to generate moments where it is simply impossible to take your eyes off the screen.
Her aptitude for capturing teenaged emotions already rivals the greats of the genre, and I say this without a hint of doubt. Wherever she goes from here and whatever stories she chooses to tell, I hope people will be there to listen, because Wilde’s is a cinematic voice that needs to be heard.
“Booksmart” is an intoxicating testament to youth that will serve as the moment Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein got their names placed firmly on the map. Alongside this, it is also an auspicious directorial debut for Olivia Wilde. Altogether it becomes clear that “Booksmart” has all the potential to become a modern classic.
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