“Booksmart” review by Nate and Alex Blake


What struck me the most while watching Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut was its beauty. When I think of the technical aspects of most comedies, particularly raunchy teen comedies, beautiful is a not an adjective that usually comes to mind. The composition of many such films relies on not drawing attention away from the antics of the characters. Wilde, along with cinematographer Jason McCormick, have put a lot of thought into adding appropriate stylistic flourishes to this coming of age story. This is the second movie I’ve seen in the last week (the other being Rocketman) to feature an exquisitely shot sequence in a swimming pool. I’ll let you discover the moment for yourself. It’s gorgeous.

Olivia booksmart-BS_02185_R_CROP_rgb.jpg
Olivia Wilde 


It has been a long time since I have seen a film in theater that touched my soul quite the way Booksmart did. I have really been struggling to write this review. I think part of it is that I identify so closely with the characters and it really took me back to a time in my life I am not willing to return to. Let’s be real, high school sucked. It was a time of insecurity, secrets, and a whole lot of anxiety. While Booksmart is a coming of age story, it is so much more than that. It is a story of friendship, love, the strive for perfection, and learning to acknowledge your imperfections.


The plot of Booksmart has already been compared to Superbad. The films do share some structural elements. Booksmart focuses on Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), two friends graduating at the top of their class. When they discover many of their less dedicated classmates have also made it into schools like Harvard and Columbia, they make last minute plans to go to a party the night before graduation. Amy hopes to have a special evening with her secret crush Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) and Molly has plans of her own for a jock named Nick (Mason Gooding). Amy also has a secret in terms of her post-graduation plans. Where the similarities with Superbad end is with the diversity of the characters. Superbad was told from an entirely cis white male point of view. Booksmart has female protagonists, but does a superb job of developing the personalities of even the most minor characters. The thought put into creating all these characters, regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation, is refreshing.



What sets this film apart from other ones in this genre is its visual beauty. As Nathan explained, that’s not something you get often from raunchy comedies. However, Olivia Wilde does a masterful job of creating a beautiful world for us to become immersed in. She uses techniques that even seasoned directors often flub. There are many scenes that really are about what surrounds the characters on screen.


Wilde doesn’t just rely on F-bombs, drinking and jokes about genitalia for laughs. Working with a script that deftly navigates the social politics of being a teenager, she adds some trippy flourishes to the proceedings. Some directors would be happy letting characters who have accidentally taken drugs and believe they are now plastic dolls to act out the scene. That would potentially be quite hilarious on its own, but Wilde, in on of the film’s funniest bits, allows us to see the characters as they see themselves in this state, using claymation.


Emily Halpern, Susanna Fogel, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman did a great job at creating a script that was relatable and realistic. There weren’t any cringeworthy moments of dialogue and nothing that made me question the authenticity of the characters. As a fellow high school try-hard, these characters felt like the people I was friends with. Don’t get me wrong, we more than made up for our nose-in-the-book high school tendencies in college, but this definitely left me yearning for a night with my best friend. What I appreciated most was how the humor was not derived from the way these girls looked. THIS IS WHY WE NEED TO SUPPORT FEMALE SCREENWRITERS. Beanie Feldstein is not a size two in case you did not notice and not a single joke was made about her weight. Instead, there were multiple scenes where she was referred to as beautiful or attractive. As a fellow plus size woman, I cannot tell you how much this was appreciated.  Comedy after comedy has used plus sized female characters as just a punch line. These writers did a great job at avoiding that.



I also appreciated that while our protagonists are underdogs in this plot, we are never asked to laugh at their physical attributes. Think back to Superbad. The script was full of jokes made at the expense of Jonah Hill’s weight. It also expected us to laugh at McLovin’s outfits. By contrast, Booksmart makes sure the characters are in on jokes about image. Amy and Molly wear some outrageous outfits, but they know they look ridiculous. They  make that choice and we laugh with them about it. It’s fun to watch these confident young women charge into a party and grab everyone’s attention. I am very happy that Beanie Feldstein, who was great in a supporting role in Lady Bird, had the opportunity to take on this role. I hope she’ll continue to receive worthy roles like this and not be forced down the same path as Rebel Wilson, who keeps playing the same stereotype over and over.

Booksmart does not merely exist as a corrective to the shortcomings of films such as Superbad.  It’s well-defined in it’s own right thanks to an insightful script, great performances and Olivia Wilde upping the stakes of comedy directing. I can’t accurately say how many times I’ve watched Superbad over the past decade. A lot will have to suffice. I imagine I’ll watch Booksmart a lot more in the years to come.


I loved how self-aware the characters were. They are far from perfect and they recognize that. They enjoy poking fun at themselves. It’s like the audience is being let in on all of their inside jokes. The way these characters were created, and acted for that matter, allowed the audience to enter a life long friendship and feel like we belonged. We were able to feel like one of them. I am not going to lie, the end of this movie made me cry. Not a single tear rolling down my cheek cry either. An ugly, from the gut cry. Thankfully, I get to see the Amy to my Molly today. Hopefully, no one gets arrested.



McLovin and I don’t have the money to bail you both out, so behave yourselves.



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