Directed by Olivia Wilde. With Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis. On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
The story follows Dever and Feldstein’s characters, two academic superstars and best friends who, on the eve of their high school graduation, suddenly realize that they should have worked less and played more. Determined never to fall short of their peers, the girls set out on a mission to cram four years of fun into one night.
School days are tough for many kids, especially when you reach your teenage years. Puberty sets in and impending adulthood gradually begins to loom. I remember at secondary school that I was there for five years and the first two saw hierarchies and cliques formed amongst the students. Bullying took place too, which I faced, but not for the last three years. I was always studious, took my classes seriously and got some decent grades when I sat my exams. I did have a social life with friends but my studying was always important and I do recall being called names such as “swot” but don’t remember the words “teacher’s pet” ever coming my way. Peer pressure is very real at school and it is easier to succumb to it rather than withstand it and be your own person. In Olivia Wilde’s 2019 comedy, Booksmart, we have a similar scenario, the gulf between the really studious at school and those who choose to party instead.
The film focuses on best friends – Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy Antsler (Kaitlyn Dever) – who are both serious about their studies and the only socialising they do is with one another. Molly comes across as confident and, some might argue, arrogant, much to the chagrin of her classmates. There is a guy she likes but study always comes first. Amy is quiet, socially awkward and having now come out as gay there is a girl that she is interested in but she doesn’t have the courage to make a move. With school about to end and college looming for Molly and Amy the future looks bright. However, Molly is horrified to learn that her peers, who seem to spend more time partying than studying, have secured places at prestigious colleges, even Yale where Molly is set to go. Stunned by this revelation, Molly decides that she and Amy will spend a full night partying and socialising, to make up for the years they have been glued to their books. The question is what will the evening have in store for them?
The format behind Booksmart is familiar to those who have seen many a teen comedy, akin to American Pie, but they tend to focus on the male perspective, whereas Olivia Wilde has offered us the alternative take which is immediately refreshing. Two studious girls, more accustomed to books than heavy drinking and parties, inevitably leads to many amusing escapades as they try to fit into the social circles they have never tried to be a part of. I found the comedy here to be more in the sheer awkward moments and exchanges that take place between the characters, rather than it being packed full of laugh out loud scenes. The film is anchored by the central performances of Feldstein and Dever, both contrasting character types but their friendship is very real and sometimes poignant too. In the end there are predictable elements here but I found the dynamic appealing of both the two girls learning about life outside of books, but of their peers having their own eyes opened to the two classmates they had seldom bothered to waste their time on. I suppose the key takeaways are the importance of friendship, especially that one person who truly gets you, but also of finding the balance between work and play. To all young students out there, don’t do drugs, study hard, but don’t forget to have fun as well.
Verdict: A fairly standard coming of age comedy, elevated by the performances of Feldstein and Dever.