Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2019 at 11:21 AM

click to enlarge Beanie Felstien as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Booksmart
  • Beanie Felstien as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Booksmart
Every now and then, a movie comes along that is so of its time that it comes to define its time. Rebel Without A Cause caught the energy of the early rock and roll era. In the 80s, John Hughes films both reflected high school reality and helped shape it. As I came out of Booksmart, I felt like I had just seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the first time. Olivia Wilde’s directing debut has the potential to be one of those generation-defining high school films.

Part of that is by design. Booksmart is very specifically about the class of 2019, and BFFs Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are about to graduate at the top of it. Amy is a do-gooder lesbian who drives a vintage Volvo with a Warren 2020 sticker on the bumper. Molly is the anti-Bart Simpson: the product of a distinctly working class home who is an overachiever at everything. On the last day of school, as class president, she’s more interested in going over year-end budget numbers with her jock VP Nick (Jason Gooding) than finding ways to celebrate.
click to enlarge When the FOMO hits.
  • When the FOMO hits.
But right before cap and gown time, they are suddenly struck by an acute case of late blooming FOMO. They set out on their penultimate high school night to find the ultimate high school party, and maybe finally put the moves on their respective crushes while they’re at it. The two have a Ferris/Cameron dynamic. Molly, utterly convinced of her own smarts, is constantly talking the reluctant Amy into escalating the hi-jinx, while Amy immediately lives to regret it. Feldstein, who shone as Saoirse Ronan’s best friend in Lady Bird, fully emerges as a major comedic talent. Dever plays it tighter to the vest, but the two characters are such fully intertwined teenage best friends you can’t really call her the straight woman.

We follow Amy and Molly, and root for them to have fun, and for their friendship to endure. But Booksmart rises above the usual teen movie cliches by fully humanizing all of its supporting characters. First and foremost is Hollywood royalty Billie Lourd giving off strong Jeff Spicoli vibes as Gigi, the drug addled rich girl who serves as Amy and Molly’s spirit guide for their procession through progressively less lame parties. Jared (Sklyer Gisondo) drives an 80s Firebird with a FUK BOI license plate. His taste in hats echoes Pretty In Pink’s Ducky. Booksmart kicks into high gear at the epically unsuccessful party he throws on a docked yacht, and keeps that momentum going all the way to the end, wrenching unexpected twists from the Superbad-like premise.
click to enlarge Billie Lourde as Gigi (left) taking Amy for a ride.
  • Billie Lourde as Gigi (left) taking Amy for a ride.
Working from a whip smart screenplay by four women writers, Wilde lovingly shepherds Amy and Molly through the best/worst night of their lives. The way she precisely balances out Fieldstein’s manic energy and Devers thin veneer of calm is reminiscent of how John Landis handled Belushi and Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers. Most crucially, editor Jamie Gross, who worked on MacGruber and Popstar: Never Stop Stopping, two of the decade's best comedies, delivers a cut so tight you could bounce a quarter off it.

So much contemporary comedy feels clutching and desperate for a laugh. They’ll just throw in five vaguely amusing gags and hope you fall for one of them. Booksmart feels loose and spontaneous, and it looks like everyone’s having a good time on the set, but the laughs flow naturally from the characters and situations. Even when something truly, Porky’s-level outlandish happens, it feels earned, and not mean spirited. It’s hard to do comedy well in these politically fraught times, but Wilde gets the tone just right, so it feels like an authentic voice of Generation Z, or whatever the hell we’re calling the kids these days.

And what kind of portrait of the "kids theses days" emerges from Booksmart? Pretty darn good, all things considered. The politics of the moment are integral to everything. Molly is focused on changing things from within the system, and planning to move to Washington to get into politics after she graduates from Yale, which conveniently fits her personal ambition in with the greater good. Amy, who sports a denim jacket with patches that say “SISTERS”, is going to go to Africa to help women there directly. You know that their idealism will get roughed up when they run up against the real world, but the kids’ determination to shape it in a new and better image is the spark that gives them life. And consider this: Even at the end of John Hughes most optimistic film, The Breakfast Club, the social barriers remain in place, even if the characters themselves got to see around them for a time. In Booksmart, once social barriers are confronted, they’re revealed to have been mirages all along. If that’s how the class of 2019 sees the world, we’re all going to be better off.

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