Review – Booksmart (2019)

by Kevin Muller

Olivia Wilde has been in the business for over ten years. As an actress, she’s juggled a career starring in both projects on television and film. On top of being strikingly beautiful, she carries herself with confidence, possessing both a razor sharp wit and deep intellect. Both her parents were respected journalists that rubbed elbows with many influential people during their careers. Wilde has spoken of many anecdotes, from her childhood, involving people from the political and entertainment world. She has been surrounded by respected people all her life. It is a lot to live up to and now she has challenged herself to be more than a pretty face. She has tried her hand at directing a coming of age story, with two female leads. How does she do with her first directorial debut?

Amy and Molly are in their final days of high school. On the popularity scale, they aren’t losers, but just have played it way too safe in their four years, focusing more on their academics than having fun.  For Molly, the more outspoken of the two, it has worked. She has been crowned Valedictorian, while Amy’s journey has been more personal. Since the tenth grade, she has been out of the closest. Molly’s personal validation, for her overachiever type nature, is the hope that she will be better off than most of her cooler classmates. Her existential crisis comes from finding out that all those people she labeled as “dumbasses” have actually gotten into schools that are as good, and better, than Yale, where she is heading to in the fall. Distraught, she decides that she and Amy are going to show their classmates that they can cut loose with the best of them, by attending one of the popular kid’s house parties. Their plan is to fit four years of partying into one night.

The film is being marketed as the female Superbad and it’s definitely doing it a disservice. While there are similar elements: high school, dirty language, the beginning of the end of a careless adolescence, but it’s a more personal film than that one. It is quite funny in parts, but it isn’t a laugh a minute. Wilde’s two lead actresses, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, younger sister of Jonah Hill, are incredible finds. Both throw themselves into their roles with a lot of dedication. They also have wonderful chemistry that would’ve sunk the film if it wasn’t there. Dever, who plays Amy, is the meeker of the two, displaying the anxiety and nervousness of a regular teenager realistically, and not in an over-dramatic manner. Her sexual preference also isn’t used to strictly define her character as well. This is where Wilde succeeds. All the characters, from the two leads to the minor players, feel like real teenagers and not a collection of clichés. The film is very progressive in its nature, due the characters. Wilde wisely never shines too big of a light on the different types of kids that inhabit this school. They are just regular kids who choose to be gay, gender fluid, bi-sexual, and any other preference that they choose to live their lives as. The film examines the thoughts and lives of all its characters, especially the two main females. Feldstein’s Molly is a nice representation of someone who has become so consumed with negative feelings that she paints anyone who is a threat to her in a negative light. In most films, the brainy lead character is painted as the victim and not made to look internally. Molly is self-admittedly brash and outspoken, justifying those traits to being a strong and powerful female.

While this is an impressive debut from Wilde, she does have a few missteps. One of the characters, Miss Williams’s journey doesn’t seem to fit as well into the movie as the director hoped. Wilde handles today’s youth’s ideology so well, but that character’s progression seems like it should be in a lesser film and it’s incredibly predictable. Wilde also has a tendency of over-stuffing scenes with musical cues. Some of the choices do work, but some just rob the scene of the emotion that the song is trying to bring out. Wilde has created a film that feels like a world of her own. The look of it is nicely produced, with the help of the wardrobe, and it does seem to follow its own logically rules, occasionally avoiding realistic consequences. While some of the fantastical elements do work, especially the scene where the girls trip on drugs, some of the plot elements seem too far out of reach, even for a film that is a bit removed from reality.

Book Smart is a great view of what Wilde has in store for us if she decides to continue down this path as a director. The film, which is a little over 90 minute, flies by so quickly. No scene ever lingers, or doesn’t contribute to the plot. Billie Lourde, daughter of the late Carrie Fischer, also creates a fun and interesting character that Wilde cuts loose with over the course of the story. In all, it is a fun and incredible well-made adventure with great characters. Wilde definitely shows intellect and skill as commander of this ship.

I am giving Booksmart a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!

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