REVIEW: Booksmart (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – United Artists Releasing

The following is a review of Booksmart — Directed by Olivia Wilde.

Before I saw Booksmart, it had been impossible for me to avoid the online bombardment of incessant comparisons between Booksmart and Superbad. The comparison made sense, even when I hadn’t seen the film. This is a coming-of-age film about two best friends who want to have a good time before they leave for college. Also, one of the two leads in Booksmart is Superbad-star Jonah Hill’s sibling Beanie Feldstein. Having now seen Olivia Wilde’s directorial feature debut, I have to admit that it would be wrong to say that it isn’t very similar to Superbad. Thankfully, though, I grew up with Superbad. I love Superbad. So it pleases me to say that any comparison to Superbad is by no means meant to be anything other than a compliment of the highest order. Booksmart is a modern, sweet, and gender-swapped, next-generation version of Superbad and I loved every minute of it.

Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart is a coming-of-age high school comedy about two best friends — Amy (played by Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein) — who, throughout high school, have been ideal students. They are both focused on their future. Molly is proud of her acceptance into Yale University and Amy is getting ready to spend the summer in Botswana. They haven’t had time for any fun in high school, which isn’t a problem for them until Molly finds out that the boys and girls that she has always looked down upon as ne’er-do-wells have all also been accepted to prestigious universities in spite of their constant partying and disinterest in scholastic activities.

Suddenly, Molly feels like she’s been wasting her time. She feels like she’s been missing out. So she decides that she and Amy should try their hardest to have fun on the night before graduation, for the purpose of changing their high school stories and experiencing everything they’ve been missing out on over the years. What follows is a night of desperation for two high schoolers who suddenly realize they have no idea where the party is being held. To find the party to end all parties, they’ll have to experience more than they ever bargained for in this formulaic but fresh coming-of-age film.

Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart is short, sweet, sassy, and sanguine. Her feature debut comedy has a lean runtime and a good-hearted approach to the last-night-in-high-school crude comedy subgenre that will probably make Booksmart into an instantly rewatchable coming-of-age romp. Its writing is modern as it contains references to Malala Yousafzai, Sasha Obama, and many others, but also because it features plenty of characters of the LGBTQ+ community while, to the best of my recollection, their own sexual orientation is never really a plot point. It is a product of this period in time and its comedy is fine-tuned and sharp without being mean-spirited, which is, honestly, refreshing.

My only actual problem with Booksmart is in its predictability at the final party as well as how formulaic it tends to feel. It becomes quite comical how it walks in the footsteps of Greg Mottola’s Superbad. Towards the end, we even see one character vomit while she is about to make love, just like how Becca threw up in bed while she was getting ready to sleep with Evan in Superbad.

If there is one element of Superbad that is incredibly impressive in retrospect it is the now-star-studded cast. Booksmart has plenty of young actors in its cast that I’m sure are able to have a real breakthrough not unlike what Jonah Hill and Emma Stone experienced after Superbad. I greatly enjoyed Dever and Feldstein’s chemistry and their characters’ relationship was incredibly endearing. I’m sure Feldstein, even if she won’t admit to it, is getting tired of the constant comparisons to her brother’s film from twelve years ago, but it absolutely is a compliment when I say that I think this is a similar comedic star-making performance. Both Feldstein and Dever are delightful.

Billie Lourd plays Gigi, who is probably the most memorable supporting character. I loved Lourd’s energy and commitment and her scenes got me every time. Lourd is hilarious in Booksmart. Skyler Gisondo — the closest thing to this film’s version of McLovin — is a lot of fun as well, and I really thought his big scene at the final party showcased his gifts perfectly. Though Will Forte, Jessica Williams, and Lisa Kudrow are fun to watch, Wilde’s partner Jason Sudeikis is the star of the older cast members that shines the brightest. He has one particularly side-splitting scene where he acts as a chauffeur for Amy and Molly, and, in this scene, Sudeikis’ line delivery is so perfect that I almost laughed hysterically.

I think Olivia Wilde’s eye for comedy brings a lot to this film even if it is her feature debut. I love that Wilde isn’t just a shot-reverse-shot debut director. Wilde’s approach is playful and her debut feature film features show-stopping sequences that I definitely did not expect to see in this film. There is a great musical-like sequence between Feldstein and Mason Gooding where their eyes lock across the room that works well in spite of how corny some may say it feels. It’s really cool to see Wilde spread her wings as a director, and the drug-infused animated sequence that felt like a blend of Toy Story and Sausage Party is just another example of her doing exactly that.

Ultimately, though it does feel like it isn’t doing the film justice to continually compare it to Superbad, it doesn’t manage to break away from the obvious comparison sufficiently. Thankfully, however, what Wilde brings to Booksmart feels fresh and modern and the film stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the 2007-hit. Booksmart deserves to stand the test of time and become a go-to female friendship-film in the vein of Mean Girls and Bridesmaids, and it deserves to become as iconic of a cultural milestone as American Pie or Superbad were to their target audience’s generations. Hopefully, time will be kind to this wonderful coming-of-age comedy.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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