(This review contains no plot spoilers and only a very brief synopsis in the third paragraph)
There were only two reasons that I saw this film. The first, is that one of the two stars is Kaitlin Dever who’m I loved from her role in the show Justified. The other reason is that the film got rave reviews when it debuted at the SXSW film festival. Lucky for me, those were both very good reasons and this film was definitely worth watching.
In articles and in its trailers it gets billed as ‘This Generation’s Superbad,’ which honestly isn’t a bad comparison. I mean, structurally it’s very similar. You have the two socially awkward friends who always hangout together, one loud & bossy and the other more quite & meek, and they decide to go to a party at the end of their senior year (there’s more, but that enters spoiler territory). To make the comparison even more weirdly apt: One of the two leads is played by Beanie Feldsein. the younger sister of Jonah Hill – 10 years his junior. Of course, not only would it be lazy to merely compare Booksmart to Superbad, but it would be wildly unfair because the film feels very fresh and is able to stand on is its own.
The film opens with our lead Molly, played by Beanie, is meditating as she listens to a bit of an off-kilter motivational tape. Molly is then picked up by her BFF Amy, played by Dever, as the two greet eachother with a charmingly cringeworthy danceoff. From there we see them arrive at school and get introduced to their fellow classmates and the slightly exaggerated highschool world they inhabit. We see that the two of them are both good students who don’t seem to get along with the rest of the school. This fact is crystallized in a scene where three kids talk shit about Molly and how much of a no-fun loser she is, not knowing she’s in the bathroom with them. Now, in any other film Molly would walk out and make some kind of speech or statement to the three kids that would crush them, and would then walk-off triumphantly. That doesn’t happen here. Molly begins to make a condescending speech, one that focuses on the fact she’ll be going to Yale while they aren’t, but ends up finding out that all of them are going to good schools or have good prospects as well – even though they partied. This acts as the inciting incident that pushes her to convince Amy that they need to go to a popular kid’s party that night, the night before graduation.
Honestly, the first act is probably the weakest of the film. Mainly because it throws a bunch of information at the audience. It also introduces us to a bunch of characters, all of who’m appear to be one-dimensional or stereotypes. However all of this set-up in the First act leads to some nice pay off in the next two acts, both of which are quite good. Characters who appear one-dimensional are given depth, and others who appear like one-note stereotypes have their personalities ramped up to comedically absurd but endearing levels.
The film has some truly funny moments that had me actually laughing out loud in the theater. Which ain’t easy, I’m much more of a smile and muffled laughter kind of dude. One scene in particular. involving a little bit of preparation before the party inside of an Uber, had me wanting to die of embarrassment and holding back obnoxious giggling. Obviously not every joke in the film lands, but more of then not they do and there are even a few running gags that kept me smiling throughout.
Comedic scenes aren’t the only area where the film does a good job, though, because it generally lands the emotional moments as well. Now, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the story, but it sticks the landing for its emotional beats just fine. Even if most of the twists are laughably predictable.
What helps sell the comedic and emotional scenes is the fact that every actor does a great job with their role, whether that be a whacky side-character of Gigi played by Billie Lourd of the wonderful chemistry between our two leads. Unlike Superbad, you actually get to know some of the other students outside our leads and their love interests. Which is nice.
The camerawork in the film was pretty solid, though there was one scene near the end that was kind of shot in a boring way. Like, it involves one of the leads talking to another character outside as the other lead sits at the window just to the right of the person their talking too and reacting to their conversation. It’s just a standard shot-reverse-shot that switches between each of the three perspectives, and you’re never given a single shot where you can see all three characters in the frame at once or even a shot where you can watch the lead behind the window and the other character at the same time. It’s more of a nitpick than anything, especially when I remember the wonderful tracking shot that follows one of our leads from inside a pool all the way into a house. A shot that leads into a scene that makes good use of sound, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.
I gotta give props to the soundtrack of the film as well, it really helps to give the film it’s own style and voice along with the writing and camerawork. Like, I’m legitimately interested in finding out a lot of the songs in this film and adding them to my playlist. Really fit the film.
It’s an impressive first outing and directorial debut for Olivia Wilde, and I’m interested to see more by her. I’m sorry to make another comparison, but I think Booksmart will end up being a sleeper-hit comedy like Game Night last year. My only worry is that it may fail at the box office despite universal critical acclaim. It’s coming out just a couple weeks after John Wick 3 and Detective Pikachu, the same week as Disney’s Aladdin and then will be followed by the release of Godzilla:King of the Monsters, Rocketman and Ma next week. Plus the only people in my theater watching it were a random 50ish year old dude, 4 teenage girls, and myself – granted I went to the 9:55pm showing. I hope I’m wrong, though, because this film is quite good.
If you’re looking for a film to watch, especially one that will make you laugh, I wholeheartedly recommend Booksmart. I also recommend Game Night, if you haven’t seen that it’s currently streaming for anybody with an HBO account – it also stars the lovely Rachel Adams who’s bouncy fun character nearly have me whiplash when I watched the film after seeing her in True Detective Season 2.