Movie Review: Booksmart
Booksmart is a comedy about two over-achieving young women on the cusp of graduating high school. They come to find out that while they were working their butts off to get into good schools, the slackers also got into really good schools without sacrificing fun. They think it's about time they have a little fun of their own the night before graduation. The film stars Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, and a bevy of rising young talent. It's directed by Olivia Wilde in her feature directing debut.
I'm a sucker for a teen comedy, especially one centered at graduation. Booksmart joins that elite list in my mind of the best, funniest and genuinely moving of these coming of age tales. It's got a depth and grace in its characters. I'm especially excited that there are multiple out LGBTQ characters that are so real.
Films in the same genre have a bad habit of other-ising the experience of being queer, but what Booksmart does so well is it never breaks from the idea that, yes, LGBTQ people experience awkward unrequited love, yes, we don't fully understand sex or pleasure right away, yes, there is no perfect "first time" for anyone. Booksmart is able to embrace the multifaceted experience of these characters without the "tragedy" that previous films force on their queer characters.
A lot of that is owed to the incredible performance of Kaitlyn Dever. Amy is a lesbian who is fully and unequivocally supported by her parents and her best friend in her journey. As Amy, Dever shows an intense vulnerability even when Amy is in command of her situation. It's a performance that peels apart the layers of the character to get to the meat of Amy and what makes her tick. It's a testament to the great work Kaitlyn Dever has so far accomplished and the long career she has ahead of her.
The film is all about getting to the depths of people. We put labels on people without actually knowing them. Booksmart is intentional in giving these characters places to go beyond their archetypes. They're not pandering or using these people's realities as a joke either. Too often the writers of these films see truth as weakness, like this person is a fool for liking something that's not "normal" or of the zeitgeist. This film meets these characters where they are and accepts them.
If Booksmart didn't have the deft hand of Olivia Wilde, I feel like it wouldn't have been able to land as well as it does. Wilde has an incredible eye when she sets her scenes. The comedy is brilliant and only more impacted by how she stages the action around them. She's able to capture the moments of emotion as well, even cutting out the sound during our lead's climactic fight to show the pain that only someone who knows us incredibly well can cause.
Booksmart is uproariously funny, the right kind of bawdy, sweet, and superbly well crafted. I think you should see it. I think you should take your friend. I think you should see it again. I think we should pour as much money into this film as we can so we can get more diverse offerings at the box office. I can't recommend this film more highly.