After working hard to get into their dream colleges, best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) realize that their party-animal peers have also been accepted into good colleges with far less effort. The night before they graduate becomes their last chance to let loose and show their fellow classmates that they really are “fun.” Molly and Amy attempt to cram in as many wild experiences as they can (including the seminal high school party) to capture the true “high school experience” before it’s too late. This is the plot of Booksmart, actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, and I’m pleased to say, it’s well worth the watch.
Obvious comparisons are going to be made between Booksmart and Superbad (starring Feldstein’s older brother, Jonah Hill) - nerds with something to prove, virgins trying to lose the dreaded “V-card,” friendships tested - but a lot has changed in the 12 years since Superbad, A LOT. And while the film’s plot (teen hijinks all night) feels familiar, there are many aspects to Wilde’s interpretation that make it feel refreshingly new.
In Booksmart, Feldstein’s Molly has a “Boss-Bitch Take-No-Prisoners” attitude. Initially she thinks she is better than the “stoners, losers, etc.” of her high school class, but once she learns that they have also been accepted into great schools AND had fun along the way, she freaks out. Molly pushes her friend Amy (played excellently by Kaitlyn Dever) to leave their comfort zone and embark on a wild night out before they graduate. Amy, who is leaving for a summer of volunteer work in Botswana before starting at Columbia, came out to her friends and family early in high school, but has yet to date or have a physical relationship with any girls. She pines for a skateboarding classmate who she is unsure of whether or not she is gay. Molly, intent on getting the two best friends to a party with the popular kids in their class, decides this is both their opportunity for change.
While Superbad had several cameos from some of Judd Apatow’s best known actors (Seth Rogen, Bill Hader and more), most of Booksmart’s young ensemble are relatively unknown. And yet, the movie’s main cast of characters are all extremely entertaining, even likeable, each in their own way. Long before they ever arrive at the desired high school party, Molly and Amy have their own hijinks through a variety of encounters: with Amy’s parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte), their principal/Uber driver (played by Wilde’s fiancé Jason Sudekis) and two of their classmates that occasionally steal the show: Jared and Gigi. Jared, played enthusiastically by Skyler Gisondo, is hilarious, but more so insanely sympathetic. He’s an extremely rich kid, posing from one identity to the next, who in reality, only has one real friend: his ride-or-die girl, Gigi (played by Billie Lourd). Molly is one of the few other students who actually speaks to Jared like a real person rather than mocking him, and she calls him out for his attempts to “buy friends.” This is just one example of why I like him. Jared is earnest in his attempts at getting people to like him (including Molly) and he values her because he recognizes that she also “tries hard” and doesn’t apologize for who she is. Molly, in her honesty with characters like Jared and Amy, also learns more about herself and the classmates she previously dismissed. Gigi on the other hand - hot damn Billie Lourd is a delight! When Jared explains how seemingly kooky Gigi has always been there for him, we nod in appreciation and understanding. Gigi provides comic relief during moments of stress or crisis throughout the film, but she is also the catalyst for our two heroes, Amy and Molly. Upon arriving at Jared’s own party, Gigi gives the two friends drugs that further “sends them on their journey” and also provides even more growth for the two characters. I can only imagine that Billie Lourd had a great time playing this character. I look forward to watching her performance again.
Honestly, Booksmart is a really fun movie with plenty of laugh out loud scenes. But what made it a great movie was the film’s several poignant moments, ones that immediately made you feel empathy for its characters, even the ones you may not normally identify with. I won’t delve much more into the film’s plot as I do not want to give too much away, but the beautiful thing about this friendship comedy is just that: the friendship. Whether or not their lines were improvised or entirely scripted, the dialogue between the film’s two leads, Amy and Molly, feels genuine; they are two best friends talking. Their banter is one of the biggest draws of the film. I later read that the two actresses lived together during filming, and I think it shows in how comfortable they are with one another onscreen. The great love story of the film is the friendship between Amy and Molly, and you are laughing along with them and rooting for them until the credits roll. I look forward to seeing what Olivia Wilde does next, but even more so, what directions Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein’s careers go in. I hope they occasionally cross paths again in the future. We will all benefit from it.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro