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“Booksmart” Is a Smart Coming-of-Age Comedy

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, “Booksmart,” is an R-rated teen comedy that has gotten a lot of attention since it premiered at SXSW earlier this year. It was written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman. The film stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as best friends Amy and Molly. The cast is rounded out by Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Jason Sudeikis and Jessica Williams.

Amy (Dever) and Molly (Feldstein) are not just overachievers. The only thing they care about is academics — and each other, of course. Molly is about to graduate as class president and valedictorian, while Amy is the salutatorian for the class of 2019. But when Molly finds out that the classmates she’s always seen as slackers are also going to prestigious universities, she decides that she and Amy need to spend their last night in high school partying, not studying.

And then, as you might expect, hijinks ensue. They know they want to go to a party at jock/class vice president Nick’s (Mason Gooding) aunt’s house, but they don’t have the address. Their wild party night gets wilder than they could have ever imagined as they end up at multiple parties throughout the night, each one a little crazier than the last.

Beanie Feldstein stars as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy | Photo credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

Dever is spectacular as an out lesbian who’s never kissed a girl but has a crush, and Feldstein plays an uptight but fun-loving teenager to perfection. You don’t for a second question any of their actions or motivations; their bond is the most believable best friendship portrayed in recent memory. It’s refreshing to see two progressive girls growing up in 2019.

But the rest of the cast shines too. There isn’t a single person who doesn’t make an impression. Williams is hilarious as Ms. Fine, the hip young teacher with whom the girls have a great relationship. Gisondo plays Jared, an over-the-top yet complicated character who we get to see evolve. But best of all is Lourd, who plays Gigi, a rich hippie girl who speaks mostly in riddles and keeps popping up wherever our main characters are. I’m already excited to see more of her onscreen.

“Booksmart” is a laugh-out-loud funny film, and though there are plenty of sex-related jokes (as is tradition in teen comedies), that isn’t all you get. You can expect scenes about porn and masturbation, but you can also expect jokes about graduating and (surprisingly) weaponry.

Lisa Kudrow stars as Charmaine and Will Forte as Doug | Photo credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

The direction from Wilde feels so natural, and she isn’t lacking skill. She spoke about her directing experience as a SXSW Film Keynote. “Eighth Grade” and “Ladybird” were two other recent films about teenage girlhood that were made by first-time directors (Bo Burnham and Greta Gerwig, respectively). “Booksmart” fits right in with those two, including a swimming pool scene that is so beautiful and stylized you can’t help but notice it. And there’s a scene in the middle of the film that’s done in a different style (again, no spoilers) that is nothing but laughs and so clever. Cinematographer Jason McCormick deserves accolades for his part in the film’s beauty as well.

There are only a couple of semi-negative things to say about this film: One is that, even though it clocks in at an hour and 42 minutes, it could perhaps have been a little shorter. The other — which is related — is that it felt at times to jump between things with slightly inconsistent tones. There are dramatic moments, and they are earned, but the movie is a comedy first and foremost so the drama sometimes felt…off. But it wasn’t enough to ruin the overall enjoyment.

“Booksmart” will get a wide release on May 24, 2019. Don’t miss out!

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