Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart Will Be Remembered As One Of The Great High School Comedies

The comparisons have already begun; Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut has been branded the female Superbad, and lauded for its innovative use of classic high school comedy tropes like that of the big night out before graduation, and the nerd crushing on the jock. But Booksmart is unique from its peers simply because it acknowledges one thoughtful truth: a woman can be smart, successful, AND fun.

Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein, fittingly the younger sister of Superbad ’s Jonah Hill) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have sacrificed their high school social lives to focus on getting into good colleges. In their minds, partying on the weekends is useless when they could be attending model UN, or fitting in extra study hours with their fake college IDs for the 24 hour library (#badass). When Molly discovers that the very people who she thinks have wasted their time on parties have also gotten into the the likes of Harvard and Yale, she is shook to her core. “They did both!” she shouts in frustration to her best friend. “We didn’t have to choose!” After much consideration, the pair decide they have one night left to make up for everything they missed, and so begins a wild night out for the history books.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde

The golden thread sewn through the heart of Booksmart is the divine chemistry between its two leads. Feldstein and Dever opted to live together prior to and during shooting, which resulted in an authentic and memorable comedic duo. Cruising into their ‘class president’ parking space (vandalised to instead say ‘ass president’), sporting a “The Future is Female” bumper sticker, the pair are very much the walking, talking ‘woke generation’. Both claim the likes of Michelle Obama and RBG as personal heroes and share lofty ambitions – and rightly so. These girls have worked their asses off and so it only seems fair that they get to blow off some steam in their final moments as high schoolers.

Both Amy and Molly get their lustful admirees, and out-and-proud Amy has her heart set on cool skater chick Ryan, a crush which Molly sweetly encourages. When Amy bottles it in an attempt to flirt, her best friend reassures her, “Do you know how many girls are gonna be up your vagina at Columbia next year?” This complete openness between best friends on screen is so refreshing because it’s two women, and how often do we get to see teenage girls talk so openly about sex and masturbation? The two teens get to giggle and share anecdotes about their personal tools of choice in a funny and non-taboo way before their big night out, during which they plan to finally pursue their crushes.

Austin Crute and Noah Galvin in Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde

Booksmart is overflowing with moments that will leave the audience gasping for air. Scene-stealing Gigi (Billie Lourd) is a pocket rocket of pure crazy and seems to rock up at every party the two leads find themselves at. On the hunt for the address of cool guy Nick’s party, Molly and Amy find themselves making unwanted pit stops at a deserted boat shindig and the theatre kids’ extravagant murder mystery soiree. The supporting cast are a knockout; Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, and Skyler Gisondo all step into their characters like a second skin. There are no two dimensional archetype high schoolers to be found in Wilde’s debut. There’s no ‘cool kid’ vs. ‘nerd’ binary  because that’s not real life, and she assures us of that within the first fifteen minutes.

Perhaps Booksmart does indulge in some tired cliches, but both the main and supporting cast bring so much energy and heart that it feels more authentic than anything that has come before. You get the sense that everyone is just so damn happy to be there. It’s full of meme-able moments that the twitter stans will enjoy, and memorable bits between Feldstein and Dever – such as that of their sickly sweet ‘compliment battles’. The relaxed, progressive subconscious of Booksmart, along with its expert pacing and gallons of chemistry, results in a rip-roaring adventure of a night that sees boat-jumping, hallucinogenic strawberries, stop-motion animation, skinny-dipping, pizza-punching, speeding, prison breaks, all wrapped up into one of the most heartwarming and memorable teen comedies of the past decade. It will also leave you listening to Lizzo on repeat for the rest of your life, so say thank you.

Millicent Thomas
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