Friday, May 24, 2019

Booksmart - Review

It seems as though lately, every new coming of age film is faced with numerous comparisons to the last great coming of age film, based solely on a single similarity. For Booksmart, outside of being in conversation with Lady Bird or Eighth Grade recently, has been likened to a female Superbad. While the premises share some vaguely familiar beats, they could not be further from the same thing outside of being truly fantastic comedies.

Academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) thought keeping their noses to the grindstone gave them a leg up on their high school peers. But on the eve of graduation, the best friends suddenly realize that they may have missed out on the special moments of their teenage years. Determined to make up for lost time, the girls decide to cram four years of not-to-be missed fun into one night -- a chaotic adventure that no amount of book smarts could prepare them for.

A coming of age film, of any tone or style, is only as strong as its lead performances. Audiences have always been given some truly remarkable lead characters in the sub-genre, but few feel as genuine or as real as Amy and Molly. Brilliant comedic performances from both Dever and Feldstein bring these driven, focused, and generally unpopular academics to life. They both provide a depth of feeling and comic flair, making it look easy as they go.

Side characters fill in the comedic antics that befall the girls throughout their night. A weird performance from Billie Lourd as the mysterious Gigi is a highlight, providing more than a fair share of confounding moments for both the audience and characters alike. As a whole, the entire cast is excellent, taking whatever brief moment they get and making the best of it every time.

But where the film truly sings, is at the script level.
The rarity of a screenplay written by four women (Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katherine Silberman, & Emily Halpern) cannot be understated and their perspective into the high school experience is critical to the success of Booksmart. No one fits into a cinematic box, each new character, big or small, breaks the mold in some way. The smart kids are fun, the party kids are smart, and the twist of this idea goes a long way.

And then there’s the direction from Olivia Wilde. Another actress moving from in front of the camera to behind it, her touch and choices reflect the work of a far more seasoned director, transforming the film into something beautiful as it rises to the third act. As a coming of age film, it is marvelously cinematic in moments, including a pool sequence that is downright lyrical and an argument that showcases how important the moment feels rather than it what is being said.

Booksmart somehow morphs into a hopeful affair above all else. Yes, there are some clichés of high school involved, but the girls are never left behind because of some social hierarchy, instead it’s a willed isolation. The film lacks very rarely punches down, if at all, and brings a heartfelt look at humanity in the unforgiving land of high school. In that way, it’s an optimistic film, both as further proof of the comedic skills of talented women in Hollywood and for a society where people can find acceptance in the most unexpected places.

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