Please, not another teen coming-of-age movie! That was your first thought, right? Hold your contempt. Booksmart changes the game and opens the genre up to greater possibilities. Directed by the actor Olivia Wilde in a smashing feature debut, this femcentric spin on Freaks and Geeks is high on girl power.
Graduation day is breathing down the necks of Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). After four years of grinding at L.A.’s Crockett High, these brainiacs are about to reap Ivy League glory — Molly at Yale and Amy at Columbia. So it’s a shock to their system when the superior attitude they wear like armor is dented by the news that, guess what? The school’s 24-hour party people are also bound for the Ivys. And not because their parents bought them in, though that would be sharply topical. “You guys don’t even care about school,” shrieks Molly at the injustice, to which a popular girl retorts, “No, we just don’t only care about school.”
It’s a killer line in a movie that’s bursting with them. Working from a clever script by a quartet of female writers, Wilde turns this rowdy party into comic bliss. Have Molly and Amy wasted four years with books? They don’t really think so. But just to be sure, they decide to crash the cool kids’ graduation blowout and cram all the partying and teen-spirit shenanigans they can into one wild night. Before the big event, the girls are detoured to a rich-kids yacht shindig, an epic fail run by Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and his wild-child friend Gigi, played by Billie Lourd, daughter of the late Carrie Fisher and an off-the-charts scene-stealer in her own right.
You could write off Booksmart as a female Superbad, which starred Feldstein’s big brother, Jonah Hill. But Wilde’s film is less obsessed with sex than with female friendship in all its complexities and contradictions. It’s not that these overachievers don’t care about hooking up: Molly futilely tries to act on her crush for the studly Nick (Mason Gooding), and Amy — who’s been out for two years and still a virgin — decides, disastrously, to kiss a girl. They each talk frankly about masturbation and internet porn. Molly wants to be the youngest Supreme Court Justice ever. And Amy is a social activist who defers college to volunteer in Botswana.
All the actors get their licks in, but the movie belongs to Feldstein and Dever, who are stars in the making. Feldstein, who killed it in Lady Bird with Saoirse Ronan and on Broadway with Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly, is a comet whose talent lights up the screen. And Dever, who excelled with recurring TV spots on Justified and Last Man Standing, does wonders as she moves from humor to heartbreak and back again. Even when they do finally get air years or resentment and angry at each other at the party — with everyone capturing the moment on their phones — their bond is never in doubt. Together with Wilde, whose touch with slapstick and nuance is equally unerring, they make Booksmart the smart choice for anyone looking for a comedy that’s outrageously entertaining and quietly revolutionary at the same time.