I haven't written for this blog in months on account of exam season, so I'm feeling a little rusty. I felt compelled to log back in today, though, because Olivia Wilde's theatrical debut Booksmart may be the most relevant coming-of-age film released in the last few years. The film is rightfully set to attain the acclaim and respect afforded to the thematically similar Lady Bird (which hit screens in 2017 and nabbed 5 Oscar nominations the next year). Unfortunately, Booksmart is receiving neither as much attention as Lady Bird nor as many box office dollars, so I feel it my duty to insist that everyone reading this review go and support this phenomenal indie film. Booksmart centres around two best friends the week of their high school graduation. Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) previously vowed to sacrifice partying so as to focus on their education. Circumstances soon make it apparent, though, that the pair weren't as wise as they'd assumed and have ultimately missed out. The film itself focuses on their last minute effort to cram an entire adolescence-worth of recklessness into one night, and the gorgeous, touching and (frankly) hilarious drama that commences is enthralling.
Wilde and Booksmart cherishes its ridiculously diverse cast. Jessica Williams is instantly likable as Miss Fine, an English teacher who, despite limited screen time, offers one of the film's most interesting performances. Lisa Kudrow delights in her cameo as Amy's embarrassingly twee mother and Jason Sudeikis' Principal Brown drives one of the funniest sequences in the film. Carrie Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd also makes a star turn as the mesmerizing wild-child Gigi, a character as big as the screen she stars on. It's worth noting, too, that Molly (the film's plus-size lead) isn't narratively reduced to her weight and aesthetic. Her character is, instead, confident, loved and successful from the get-go; a direct rejection of the Hollywood tropes that birthed such films as The DUFF. Instead of patronizing Molly, Booksmart happily takes her and Amy on the wild and joyous journey they deserve. Austin Crute and Noah Galvin are positively scene stealing as the delightfully queer double-act Alan and George - their laugh-out-loud moments never coming at the expense of their own dignity and pride. Dever's Amy, our other leading lady, is also openly queer within the film and her character accurately conveys the struggles of navigating high school post-'coming out'; it's great to see such authentic and relatable portrayals of queer youth in a genre which often confines gay characters to the isolating angst of self-discovery. These queer characters aren't the joke, they tell them.
Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy, Her) here makes her directorial debut for a feature-length flick but her knack for pacing, atmosphere and cinematography would have you believing she's a pro. The visuals here are ridiculously stunning with the night-time party sequences in particular dazzling on the big screen. These visuals (aided by cinematographer Jason McCormick) allow the film to, at times, feel positively magical with Booksmart practically begging the viewer to escape into its strangely authentic recreation of school life. You should go into Booksmart with as little information about the film as possible - ideally avoid even the trailer. The film's surprisingly sprawling plot isn't just hilarious, it also sets up some genuinely shocking twists and rewarding character reveals with the most magnificent subtlety and I'd really hate for that to be ruined. Sure, Wilde indulges in one or two clichés, but this otherwise courageous film doesn't deserve to go on to gather dust in your local Cex store. Booksmart deserves to be seen, to be processed and to be loved for years to come. It's not often that a indie can take over the summer movie season, but if any 2019 flick deserves to - it's this one. ★★★★★
Written by James Green
Originally published at www.jg-review.blogspot.com