It’s hard to pinpoint the strongest element of “Booksmart.”
Is it the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde?
The film is so overflowing and joyous that it is almost an embarrassment of riches. Consistently hilarious from start to finish and full of surprising thematic depth, “Booksmart” is another installment in the recent string of excellent teen dramadies that started with “The Edge of Seventeen” and continued through “Lady Bird” and “Eighth Grade.” It’s a film so impeccable that accomplishes the previously thought improbable task of establishing Wilde, a B-lister with an ok-ish acting resume up to this point, as *the* director to seek out.
Or is it the relatable plot?
Molly (Beanie Feldstein, the best friend from “Lady Bird”) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are academic overachievers who have spent their time in high school focusing on studying, as to get into high-grade colleges. Molly has no intention of hiding this fact and sees it and her valedictorian status as signifiers that she is meant for greater things. She believes that high school as a whole, along with all the people she’s tolerated during that time, are beneath her. Molly’s perception of her superiority gets unearthed when it turns out that their classmates, who partied frequently and came off like goofballs, also got into good colleges.
This leads Molly to take Amy out for a night on the town to attend the perfect party before they graduate.
Perhaps, the script is the best part.
The film’s script is pitch perfect, with each joke landing with pinpoint accuracy; complemented with uncanny chemistry between Feldstein and Dever.
Feldstein and Dever also deliver a performance for the ages.
Theirs are the two performances that get a lot of the big emotional moments, but attention must also be paid to Jason Sudeikis as the school’s principal, who moonlights as a Lyft driver as revealed in one of the film’s better gags, Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow as Amy’s religious parents, who are supportive of the fact that she is gay, but don’t entirely understand how to deal with it, and Billie Lourd as the perpetually inebriated Gigi. Lourd is naturally funny, much like her mother, Carrie Fisher, and almost always steals any scene that she’s in.
When it comes down to it, what makes “Booksmart” great is its pathos.
The film is a character study on Molly, as she learns to see the people around her and to celebrate the diversity of experiences and perspectives of her classmates.
The film’s theme is rooted in the idea that you are one person of trillions, and that’s OK. There are people all around you, particularly in adolescence, that have experiences of their own that are exciting and unique and worth empathizing with. Beyond even its jokes, the strongest facet of “Booksmart” is the intense love it has for its characters.
If there are issues, they come up in the form of an occasional contrivance, which could bother people not willing to go along with the movie. However, its arguable that these occasional plot contrivances fit the mold of a proper comedy.
“Booksmart” is in all likelihood one of the best films of 2019, it is crackling with energy, frequently delightful and constantly riotous. The fact that the film was unable to find an audience during its initial theatrical run borders on tragedy. It will be playing at the Ruth Solokof in a special engagement through June 27th and is well worth the time.