Written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, and mf Billie Lourd
Running time 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA rating: R, for bananapants shenanigans by a buncha wiley teens
by Jaime Davis, The Fixer
I wasn’t much of a huge partier in high school. That doesn’t mean I didn’t go to parties, though. I totes did! There was the party around Valentine’s Day one year where my friend and I were so annoyed with the mere concept of V-Day that we drank whatever we could get our grubby 17 year-old hands on while simultaneously ingesting enough No-Doze to keep a college kid studying for three days straight (I then puked for 24 hours in a row). There was the party in Rehoboth Beach when I was grounded and lied to my parents about working at the Gap that night, all night, and then my dad came out looking for me, found me driving home on a deserted country road, flashed me with his bright lights until I pulled over, then walked up to my car and yelled at me to never, ever pull over when someone flashed their lights at me like that. Oh, there was the party where I made out with one of my best male friends which was totally fucking weird and we couldn’t stop laughing about it at the time. (Would you believe we’re both gay and out now? Uh huh.) There were the parties where I got wasted spending the entire night sitting on the backs of different pickup trucks (I went to high school in Delaware). And there was the party out in the middle of the boonies where I drove home extremely drunk and to this day still think about how someone must have been watching over me that night; I haven’t driven under the influence of anything since. Okay so now that I’m thinking about it, I went to more parties than I want to remember.
I mean, I sure wasn’t cool or anything. I was generally regarded as quiet. Somewhat nerdy. I always had a group of friends, but I wasn’t quick to speak up or say much in large groups. I liked school and was kinda okay at it and also liked art and clothes and writing and movies and “weird” music, which made me stick out a bit in our rural town. Basically you guys, I didn’t listen exclusively to country or rap/hip hop. And where I went to high school, that was a big deal. If you listened exclusively to country or rap/hip hop, you fit in one of those main groups. You “made sense” to the larger pool of kids. I never really made sense in high school, and I’m not mad about it. It helped me become more introspective, to figure out who the fuck I wanted to be and the kind of person I wanted to be like.
Booksmart’s Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) think they’ve made sense of everything in high school. Early on, they make a pact not to focus on partying or fucking up so that they can get into the best schools and go off to make a difference eliminating the wage gap or becoming the youngest female Supreme Court justice ever (Molly’s hero is RBG). Molly, all high-strung overachiever, is played perfectly by Feldstein, who stole scenes opposite Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird. Molly has her whole overachieving life figured out and it’s gonna be wayyyyy better than her loser classmates, who’ve spent their time getting high, getting in trouble, and getting freaky. That is, until the day before graduation when she’s the recipient of a terrible comeuppance: she realizes the so-called “losers” she’s put down in her head are going to similar schools as her: Yale, Stanford, and Google, in the case of a classmate who was recruited to work for the search firm giant right out of high school. The revelation that she didn’t have to choose - that she could have fun AND achieve great heights…well, it makes mommy spin the fuck out in eternal despair and, as mentioned, she’s not one to back away from a challenge. So what’s our type A hero to do? Go to the last party of her high school career, that’s what.
That brings us to Amy, Molly’s absolute bestie for lyfe, a socially-conscious sweetie with a heart of gold who’s off to Columbia, but not before she spends time volunteering in Africa. To say Amy and Molly have a strong friendship is like saying Drake kinda likes the Raptors. The two speak their own friend language, vibing off each other’s chemistry in a way that’s endearing in film form (but if you knew these two in real life you’d prolly wanna puke in your Pumas). Their parents think they’re together-together, as in gay, which makes sense because Amy has technically been out for the past couple years, though her status been single and ready to mingle. Dever’s portrayal of Amy as a sensitive, caring, wading-through-messy-waters young woman is already super on-point, but she brings so much to the role of a young gay woman trying to navigate tricky LGBT code, from deciphering whether her crush is also into girls to figuring out what the fuck lesbian sex is anyway. There’s a scene where Amy finds out an important something about her object of affection, cutie cute skater girl Ryan, and Dever’s ability to extract a multitude of emotions in a matter of seconds is just riveting (and if you haven’t seen Short Term 12, she’s amazing in that, too). Her sexuality is never treated as other or different - it’s treated just like every other character in the film trying to get busy; an alternate title for Booksmart could be Tryin to Bone.
Molly, now on a mission from RBG or whatever, enlists Amy in her Ultimate Quest To Have Fun in High School! Priority #1: attending the rager they keep seeing stories about on their peers’ social media. The snag? They don’t know the address! It’s such a simple plot device pulling the story along…leading them from one bizarro teen party and weirdo interaction to the next, featuring a hilarious gaggle of random folks - Gigi (Billie Lourd - hi, she’s like way too good in this), the slightly off-kilter, poor little rich girl who’s batshit cause she’s always on something. Nick (Mason Gooding), the clueless, silly party boy who everyone wants to get with. Jared (Skyler Gisondo), the kid who tries to buy friends’ affections with gifts and his daddy’s money. Triple A (Molly Gordon), a stealthily secret smart girl branded the popular slut. Hope (Diana Silvers), not your typical mean hot girl. Alan & George (Austin Crute & Noah Galvin, respectively), the resident drama freaks hosting a murder mystery party, as high school students are wont to do. Miss Fine (Jessica Williams), their very cool and very fine and very young teacher who’s taken a shine to Amy and Molly. The night brings them closer to students they wrote off at the start of high school while also highlighting tensions in their own close-knit relationship. In a teen movie, no bond is safe.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot because the film unfolds in such a way that feels eerily organic, just like random crazy nights in high school. The script is funny and original and honest and special - a true marker in the coming-of-age genre. In the hands of first-time director Olivia Wilde, we have a small appearance by her hubs Jason Sudeikis, yes, but more importantly we have an extremely capable new directing talent on our hands. All of the elements for a good time are here: jokes on jokes, a dash of weird, a little crazy times, excellent pacing, charming performances, emotional feel good vibes, inclusivity. Everything about Booksmart feels alive and exciting and invincible, kinda like how being a teen feels.