The post-high school party comedy has come a long way since characters discovered that fat, drunk and stupid is no way to get through life.
“Booksmart’s” lead characters, Amy (Kaitlin Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are the antithesis of that “Animal House” stereotype.
On the eve of graduation, they take stock of their high school careers and notice the only rule they’ve ever broken was getting fake IDs to access their local college’s 24-hour library. As they prepare to graduate, they yearn for that boozy, hormone-fueled high school experience they missed, and, like their genre brothers in “Superbad” and “American Pie,” they plan on fitting it all in one crazy night.
Amy, a dorky bookworm whose most intimate partner is a stuffed animal, will go after her high school crush, the tattooed, skateboarder Ryan (Victoria Ruesga). Molly, the career-focused class president, will put her insecurities aside and court the suave Nick (Mason Gooding).
The only thing standing in the way of the duo’s crazy night out is an invitation to any of the big graduation bashes. So they end up on a trek that splinters off into a series of parties that tests their bond.
The debut film by actress Olivia Wilde, working with a screenplay by four writers whose credits range from mid-tier comedies to sitcoms, “Booksmart” comes alive from its first frame, with Feldstein and Dever cutting a rug in the middle of the street, and it rarely loses steam.
While borrowing beats from other high school movies, “Booksmart” twists them to fit a less macho, more sympathetic mold. Dever and Feldstein’s chemistry as supportive best friends bursts with sincerity and emotion. The stereotypical characters, like the try-hard rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and the sarcastic, promiscuous Triple A (Molly Gordon), are revealed to have layers beyond their assigned tropes.
While recent high school films like “Lady Bird” and “Edge of Seventeen” focused heavily on overcoming teenage trauma, “Booksmart” is a throwback to the days of free-wheeling, rite-of-passage movies like “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Varsity Blues,” albeit more politically minded, raunchier and better structured.
“Booksmart” operates in a heightened reality, where high schoolers have the money to throw parties on cruise ships and arrange elaborate murder-mystery gatherings. But that goofiness doesn’t take away from the weight and uneasiness the girls feel as they discover the things they’ve built up in their head, whether it’s crushes or the prospect of a sexual encounter, aren’t what they thought they would be.
In directing this cast of characters, Wilde showcases a masterful hand at balancing drama and comedy. She can throw in a scene where the girls accidentally take drugs and imagine themselves as dolls and make it work alongside a dramatic fight between the two in front of a party of classmates with lit-up cellphones who are recording the entire controversy.
While “Booksmart” may look like other high school comedies on the surface, it builds on the genre and improves it with wonderful craftsmanship and cheer.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live