HomeMovies'Booksmart' Review: Olivia Wilde's Directorial Debut is a Star-Making, Definitive High School...

‘Booksmart’ Review: Olivia Wilde’s Directorial Debut is a Star-Making, Definitive High School Comedy

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

First-time directors are arguably held to the highest standards. At the same rate, they can be forgiven for their inexperience. The same goes with conflating the quality and enjoyment of a movie with a likable and diverse cast and crew. Booksmart runs the gamut with potential handicaps. It’s directed by a first-time director, has an all-star cast across the board, and the production team heavily leans X chromosomes.

While that all matters in some form, Wilde and her team lift it above all those standards. At the moment it’s in contention with Long Shot as the comedy of the year.

With a script that passed touched by four screenwriters, it’s a surprise how well the story is contained with sights on being a modern John Hughes joint without all the messy politics. It’s a confident if not audacious story about regret and the pain of high school that never runs low on empathy. This is a perfect reflection of today’s generation that was told to go to a good college but instead of promising careers in return, are often left with trillions in student loans and regret.

This is the antidote to the fear of missing out.

Enter Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two best friends at a Los Angeles high school who’ve done nothing but study hard, serve on student government, and drive a car with an Elizabeth Warren 2020 sticker. They’ve done everything to get into Yale and Columbia, respectively, laughing at everyone that will go to some local community college. When Molly overhears a group of those exact “underachievers” in their gender-neutral bathroom bad-talking Molly’s study-only habits, she learns basically everyone is going to a prestigious school or was recruited by a big tech company.

Panic ensues. They had their cake and ate it too. Molly and Amy wasted their lives, skipping parties for the library. It’s time to make up for all those lost experiences, and the solution is at the biggest party the night before graduation. Let the games begin.

The rest of the night plays out a bit like a video game. Molly and Amy have to choose new outfits before exploring a new map and each new party comes at a higher difficulty than the last before finally reaching the boss round. And along the way, they’re given new tools, take the wrong path, use up resources, and are even granted a loot box to level up.

It’s a night of varying escapades but is always centered on Molly and Amy’s identities and insecurities, successfully displaying the high school experience. They might be the most extreme versions of it but all the groundwork is laid out with precision, establishing each archetype in pairs. There are two jock-types, a couple of one-percenters, those with a reputation for too much fun, and the list goes on, even to the principal (Jason Sudeikis) and teacher (Jessica Williams) that wants to be friends for their students.

Booksmart is never concerned with being judge or jury. That’s really the antithesis of it all. It’s a celebration of the opportunities that high school presents while fully understanding how difficult it is to see that in the moment when there’s a whole new life with a diploma.

Coming from a career of acting, Wilde pulls out top-notch performances from everyone. Dever and Feldstein have undeniable chemistry, be it through their overwhelming support of each other, or when they’re tripping and think they’re plastic dolls, or in what could be considered their first-ever fight. Wilde knows exactly how long to hold each shot, giving her ensemble room to explore and play off each other to often hilarious and occasionally dramatic heights. They’re bonafide stars, but so is the supporting cast like Billie Lourd as an overly expressive rich girl, or Sudeikis as the “cool” principal/Lyft driver/author. Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow also play Amy’s overbearing parents. Enough said.

Wilde’s direction feels completely natural to the story, and coming from a background directing music videos (so of course, there’s also a killer soundtrack) also brings a visual flair atypical for a high school comedy. Booksmart will inevitably be compared to Lady Bird but is its own thing entirely and could very well be the defining high school movie of the decade clocking in right on time.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Booksmart premiered at SXSW on March 10. It hits theaters everywhere May 24, 2019.




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