Booksmart is a coming of age story featuring the ultimate female friendship between high school seniors, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein). Molly, a determined and driven class president, has worked her entire high school career making sure she is the best and gets into the best schools. Her best friend Amy, a staunch feminist is focused on getting through her senior year to spend the summer making tampons in Botswana. As graduation grows closer, Molly learns she maybe hasn’t made the most of her time in high school. She decides that she and Amy must attend the party at Nick’s house, the Vice President and most popular guy in their class. Their night doesn’t go as planned as they have detours including a boat party, murder mystery, and an intention experimentation with drugs.
Molly and Amy are very authentic characters. I appreciate the way that Molly is portrayed in this film. It is something so simple but also so rare. Molly is what people would describe as plus size, and in this film, it is never even addressed. In so many comedies, the plus size or fat girl becomes the butt of all the jokes, or her weight plays into the comedy of the film. It was so refreshing to see a movie where a plus size girl isn’t there to be a punchline, or her weight isn’t the source of a joke. Amy, an out lesbian, is portrayed as someone who is still trying to find her voice and figure herself out. Their friendship is empowering. It is a friendship featuring two females where they are lifting each other. It isn’t catty or overly dramatic like many films but is grounded in reality. It is a non-traditional love story in the sense that it is focused on the love between two friends and not a romantic relationship.
The comedy in the film is phenomenal. The writing by Susanna Fogel and Emily Halpern is nothing short of exceptional. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever deliver their lines with perfect timing, bringing the writing to the forefront of the film. The dialogue at times is rapid and smart but also doesn’t overwhelm the audience with gross-out sexualized humor. Some of the best lines are delivered so quickly such as a line where Amy tells her parents about doing a Korean facial, or the scene where they are accidentally drugged. It is the biggest surprise in the film so that I won’t discuss specifics, but I think it is easily the most unexpectedly hilarious scene in any movie at SXSW this year.
While the focus of the film is on Molly and Amy, the other characters are pretty well developed for supporting roles and help bring home one of the main themes of the film, and it is that there are always different layers or sides of people and we shouldn’t judge them just on one. Molly Gordon as Triple-A is one of the best examples of this. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to her character as being a typical high school stereotype, but by the end of the film, we learn to appreciate new aspects of her role. Billie Lourd plays Gigi, who we don’t get to learn as much about, but see other sides of her too. Her performance is one of the most off the wall, but just plain enjoyable in the film.
Olivia Wilde’s choices as a director are pitch-perfect and create a vibrant and authentic experience for the audience. Her decision to keep a lot of the shots close and tight focus on the emotion of the characters and their relationship to the situation. It scarily enough feels like it brings the high school back to life. It is a first feature that doesn’t feel like one at all. She has proven her skill as a director, and this is indeed not the last time you will see her behind a camera.
Booksmart is the modern day high school film told from the female perspective and instead of focusing on love, focuses on the value and strength of a strong female friendship. It is a breath of fresh air that will leave audiences cheering. It only continues to further the conversation and proves that female filmmakers are kicking ass and taking names, and it is about time.