Actor Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut in this weekend’s Booksmart, and it’s an impressive accomplishment for a first-time director. Hell, it’s an impressive movie for any director, quirky and whip-smart and real and hilarious in a way few coming-of-age movies are.
The story follows two besties, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), two high school seniors on the eve of their graduation. They are the definition of goody-two-shoes, both Type A students who spent their entire high school existence joined at the hip or studying their tails off to be top of the class. Naturally, this doesn’t exactly make them popular with their fellow classmates, which is fine by them – who would want to be friends with degenerate losers, anyway? Except, as it turns out, those “degenerate losers” are getting into the same Ivy League schools as Amy and Molly and they managed to have a great time in high school while doing it. Cue Molly’s existential crisis, where she is resolved to have one wild night of partying and being a typical teenager while dragging the reluctant Amy along.
Debauchery, deep talks, and shenanigans abound as they have a night that – cliché or not – quite literally changes their lives forever.
So does Booksmart live up to all the hype it got after SXSW? Read on for the three highlights that make it a movie worth seeing in theaters.
1. An Honest Portrayal Of Female Friendship
It’s rare to see an honest on-screen portrayal of the deep and abiding friendship that can be found between women, and especially between girls. We’re used to the catty, backstabbing on-screen relationships of high school girls, but what about the ones that show female relationships as they truly are? The friendship between Molly and Amy is so real and relatable that it resonated deeply with me, even though it’s a friendship between two characters a good twenty years younger. No, we don’t just talk about boys with our girl gang (although, okay, there is a lot of that). We talk about sex. We talk about bodily functions. We talk about our insecurities. We keep each other in check. We support one another and believe our girlfriends are the biggest and most beautiful badasses we know – and we tell each other that. We talk about all the off-color, R-rated, raunchy things you expect men to talk about, because women are not fragile, docile little birds with PG-rated lives. We’re hilarious and flawed and dirty-minded and heartbreakingly honest with one another.
Every bit of this is captured in the relationship between Molly and Amy. Discussing embarrassing masturbation mishaps? Check, been there. Discussing our crushes with each other in painstaking detail? Yep, that too. Pumping each other up before a night out? Absolutely. And most of all, girlfriends – our true tribe – will absolutely call one another out when we’re being less than our best selves. Only a close girlfriend can hit a woman with the concentrated dose of brutal honesty needed in order to build us back up into something better. Not the cattiness of a stereotypical movie teenage girl, but the loving bluntness that can only be delivered by a gal pal who wants the very best for us. Amy and Molly are the essence of real female friendship, and it is refreshing (and long overdue) to see it on screen.
2. It Reflects The Real World In The Best Way
Thank God for Booksmart, a movie that incorporates diverse body types and races and sexual orientations and attractiveness levels in a way that doesn’t make it seem like the filmmakers are looking for accolades for being properly representative. It’s not a big deal in Booksmart because it’s just…how it is, how it should be. The kids of Booksmart‘s world are a beautiful mix of, well, everything, and real. This isn’t a high school comedy where the jocks are square-jawed Ken dolls and the popular girls perfectly spray-tanned blondes. Molly’s love interest, Nick, is played by Mason Gooding, son of Cuba Gooding Jr. As the “player” of the movie, Nick is real-world charming and multidimensional, the sort of guy you feel like you would see in your high school, not an untouchable (or white) Greek god. It’s fantastic to see Beanie Feldstein, not your typical Hollywood leading lady, pursuing a romantic interest without it being played as a joke in the first place.
It’s Amy who is the heart of the movie, however. Kaitlyn Dever’s turn as a baby lesbian still wildly unsure about how to go about the whole being gay thing is raw and honest and, at times, hilarious. All teenagers fumble with their first steps at love and romance (hell, I still do and I’m in my 30s), but Amy has the added challenge of having to navigate an entirely different layer with coming to terms with her sexual identity. Anyone, no matter their sexual orientation, can relate to Amy’s first cringingly awkward attempts to flirt with the girl she’s crushing on. But teenagers who are questioning their identity, or their gender, or not quite out of the closet yet will relate on a fundamental level to Amy’s unsteady but brave journey of self-discovery. Booksmart is a breath of fresh air that reflects the world as it is, not as Hollywood thinks it is, and it’s all the better for it.
3. It Is Side-Splittingly Hilarious
While the tides are turning (as Kaitlyn Dever herself said in our SXSW interview with her), it’s still exceedingly rare to see comedic roles for young female actors. But Feldstein and Dever are comedic gold together. Molly’s aggressively unfiltered brand of humor is met by Amy’s perfectly-timed deadpan, and the two actors riff off one another in unexpected and side-splitting ways. Throw Billie Lourd as Gigi into the mix and it gets even wackier. Gigi is unlike any other character in the movie, existing in her own off-kilter sphere, operating on her own time table. Bille Lourd plays her oddball character with 110% commitment, exhibiting her loyalty in the weirdest ways as the most well-meaning possible psychopath in history. The trio carries the comedy of the movie. Other supporting characters have their own moments to shine, but it’s Dever, Feldstein, and Lourd that are gut-busting, R-rated funny together. Teenage boys saw themselves repped in Superbad; now teenage girls have the same in Booksmart.
Seriously. Go see this movie in theaters. I can not stress that enough.
Booksmart is in theaters this weekend. Get your tickets here.