Photo | Annapurna Pictures
“Booksmart” checks every box for a gross, teen coming-of-age comedy, but it is also totally new and unusual. It is the same old teen story — raucous house parties, high school cliques, crushing unrequited crushes — but the teens themselves are completely new. Above all, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are complex, hilarious and transcendent as high school best friends navigating their last night before graduation, and much more.
Feldstein stars as Molly, senior class president and certified control freak, an overachiever who is ready to harvest the fruits of her academic and extracurricular labors in her carefully planned out future, beginning at Yale and ending in the Supreme Court. Dever (“Justified”) is Amy, equally intelligent but less aggressive, a soft spoken lesbian who has never had a girlfriend and whose bedroom door has a sign that reads: “A Room of One’s Own.”
Today’s teenagers, if this film is to be believed, are literate, hyperaware, evolved and informed. All the old “Mean Girl” tropes have vanished, and while these students still fight and argue, I don’t think a single girl in this film attacked the physical appearance of another. While these kids might be what old people dismissively call “politically correct,” this film is far from polite. When Molly and Amy realize that they sacrificed a social life to get ahead while their hard-partying classmates got just as far, the girls inevitably decide to make up for lost time in one fell swoop.
Molly is so competitive that she undertakes this night of fun simply to even the score, not to actually have fun, while Amy is shy and prefers to stay in with her hilariously supportive parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) and their graduation night dinner replete with pun-named foods. But the pair don matching jumpsuits and venture into the night, minus the address to a big house party taking place at the home of Molly’s popular vice president, Nick.
Director Olivia Wilde takes her young stars through misadventures galore, particularly nailing their interactions with adults like the ones with their school principal/Lyft driver, played by Wilde’s husband, Jason Sudekis. He is hilariously exhausted by their earnestness, and since I myself am an adult, I felt like the adults trying to keep up with the kids were a proxy for the viewer.
In a night that features an over-the-top murder mystery party hosted by the fabulously demanding drama club, a sparsely attended fête on a boat, vomit, genital mishaps and, of course, beer pong, “Booksmart” is a genuinely moving story as well. I cannot say enough about these two lead actresses. I wish I could see more of the world through their eyes, and the pang this film gave me for my own high school best friend was almost as sharp and true as the script.
Moments of sincerity arrived right on time, and characters who think they have the world figured out still manage to surprise themselves. In this brave new world of social awareness on a global scale, it is particularly affecting to see these woke young hooligans connect with each other. Billie Lourd is particularly hilarious as a totally unhinged rich girl named Gigi who appears everywhere.
This new breed of teen is sophisticated, but in the hands of these young actresses, Molly and Amy are vulnerable, heartbreaking and unforgettable. How can you not love two best friends whose code word for unconditionally agreeing to anything is “Malala.” These girls are a revelation in “Booksmart,” particularly when they accidentally ingest drugs and experience a wonderful hallucination in which they turn into dolls.
“Booksmart” is currently available to rent.
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