The high school party movie is a subgenre of comedy that has brought us a number of classics over the years. Each generation has their Fast Times at Ridgemont High or their Superbad (which is somehow already 12 years old). Now Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut brings us Booksmart, a film likely destined to be that classic for a new generation, and possibly one of the best of them all.
Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are two inseparable friends on the day before graduation. Both Ivy League bound, and Molly as valedictorian, the pair are ready to take their place at the top of the class and accept their just rewards. However, after discovering that many of their “lesser” classmates, who spent so much time partying and goofing off during high school, are somehow also going to prestigious schools, the pair wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake and vow to make up for four years of having no fun by having all of the fun before graduating tomorrow.
What follows is this weird amalgamation of buddy comedy, teenage sex comedy (light on the sex) and road trip movie, as Molly and Amy try to figure out how to get to the big end of the year graduation party, considering they were never invited to it. The pair run into several stumbling blocks along the way, each one more hilarious than the last.
For most movies of this type, the characters of Molly and Amy would be the stick-in-the-mud supporting characters that all the cool kids laugh at, so the fact that they’ve been shifted to the front of the story is enough to make Booksmart feel fresh on its own. Of course, the class nerds are no less the subject of jokes here, but so is everybody else, and it’s never mean spirited or cruel. Everybody in this movie is in high school, which means everybody is an idiot.
From the second Molly and Amy go off on their adventure I was right along with them. Feldstein and Dever make their characters easily relatable and endearing. From the outset, the idea that these characters have been close friends for years is easy to accept. The chemistry between Feldstein and Dever is exceptional. They play off each other effortlessly, like they’ve been doing it for years.
Ultimately, the relationship between Amy and Molly is what Booksmart is all about. This is part of what sets the film apart from others of the genre. While the R-rated humor is absolutely enough to keep an audience entertained on its own, it’s watching how these two friends, on the brink of a major life change, deal with that change, which keeps you invested in the journey.
Of course, when the name of your movie is Booksmart, you have to be able to show some intelligence, and the script (from Emily Halpern, Susanna Fogel, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman) absolutely does that. How a screenplay with that many writers avoided getting overly cluttered is a mystery. The jokes are perfectly timed, yet they almost never stop. The wit is razor sharp and will keep you laughing from beginning to end.
That end will also come sooner than you think. The pacing of Booksmart is perfect. The jokes come rapid fire, so there’s always something that has you laughing, and it never slows down. One crazy situation leads seamlessly to the next, and while the concepts of each aren’t entirely original, you’re laughing too much to care.
If this is what we can expect from first time director Olivia Wilde going forward, she has an amazing career in front of her from behind the camera. Her comic timing is excellent and she perfectly balances a wide variety of diverse, and hilarious, characters in the supporting cast, so I can’t wait to see what she does next.
In addition to the pair of stellar leads, Booksmart also includes strong supporting performances by Jason Sudeikis as the school principal and Jessica Williams as the “cool” teacher that everybody likes, (and some students like a lot). However, special recognition has to go to Billie Lourd as Gigi, a slightly off-kilter fellow student who pops up like a bad penny throughout the narrative and is always welcome when she does.
It goes without saying that Booksmart is one of the best comedies of the year. I’d go a step further and call it one of the best comedies of the last several years.
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