If you mixed Superbad and Lady Bird in a blender, you’d get something along the lines of Booksmart. As far as high school comedies go, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut produces some of the biggest laughs since we were introduced to McLovin. Like Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated coming-of-age story, Booksmart also possesses a voice that’s distinctly feminine. That’s not to say the film will only speak to the female demographic. This is a movie that can resonate with all audiences, especially those who look back on their youth as a series of missed opportunities. It’s a relatable and intelligent indie treasure that never stops trying to put a smile on your face.
Speaking of Ladybird, Beanie Feldstein goes from playing Saoirse Ronan’s best friend to being the co-lead in this movie. Feldstein stars as Molly, that one overachieving student every high school has. You know, the kind who’ll have a meltdown if they get an A- on a test. Molly’s only close friend is Kaitlyn Dever’s Amy, who came out of the closet a couple years earlier and is still having trouble in the romance department. Although Molly and Amy spent a majority of the past four years studying, they take pride in knowing that their hard work has gotten them into top-tier colleges. Molly is beyond resentful, however, upon discovering that many of her fellow students also got into Ivy League universities, despite their immature behavior. Distraught that she never found the time to party, Molly sets out for one wild night with Amy reluctantly going along for the ride.
The success of Booksmart boils down to the natural chemistry between Feldstein and Dever. You never feel like you’re watching two actresses, but rather two friends who have been joined at the hip since grade school. It only helps that the duo is given well-defined characters to work with. Molly and Amy have the ambition of Lisa Simpson, as well as the pretentious cynicism of Daria Morgendorffer. It would’ve been easy to write both characters as one-note nerds and even easier to portray Amy as a stereotypical gay best friend. Both are given unexpected layers, however, honestly exploring the insecurities and urges that make the teenage experience so universal.
While Feldstein and Dever deliver breakout performances, we also get some hilarious work from seasoned comedy vets like Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s corny parents. Jason Sudeikis, Wilde’s real-life partner, brings the chuckles as a principal with a side a job. The two funniest performances come from Skyler Gisondo as a rich dweeb who tries way too hard to win his peers over and Billie Lourd as a social butterfly who commands every party she crashes. Even Maya Rudolph, who has an uncredited voiceover cameo, will have you cackling hysterically within the first minutes.
The original screenplay by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins was put on the Black List back in 2009. Over the following ten years, the script received rewrites from Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman. The dialogue is so natural and the one-liners are so biting, though, that it doesn’t feel like there were ever too many cooks in the kitchen. The one who brings it all together is Olivia Wilde, whose film roles haven’t always been the best showcase for her talents. Behind the camera, Wilde demonstrates her knack for comedy and keen visual eye, particularly during an animated scene where our protagonists enter a Barbie world. Along with The Edge of Seventeen, Eighth Grade, and Love, Simon, she’s made a movie about growing up that’s wise beyond its years.