By Ali Coad
I can hardly remember a movie I’ve enjoyed more. Booksmart is 104 minutes of heartwarming friendship, of playfulness, of strength, of jokes that land quickly and with a resounding punch. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut doesn’t level with other high-school, coming-of-age dramadies, but rises above it. All those predictable stereotypes and tropes often prescribed to that genre do not apply to Booksmart. Above all, and perhaps best of all, this film is an ode to the revolution and power of female friendship.
The story begins and ends with Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). These two remain at the pink, tender heart of the film, and their sparkplug chemistry makes the story an easy investment; you want to see how they manage to eventually (hopefully) overcome whatever problems arise. These are women I want to know, want to befriend, want to grow with.
After Molly, valedictorian and class president, discovers that the seriousness and focus that school was all for naught, for the classmates who partied and socialized got into the same Ivy Leagues schools she did, she and Amy decide to spend their last night of high school making up for lost time. Amy is a less enthusiastic participant in the night’s escapades but is buoyed by Molly’s enthusiasm and vigor. And chaos does, in fact, ensue. They go from an empty yacht party with too many drugs to the back of a Lyft that just happens to be driven by their principal to no-joke jail, stopping almost everywhere in between.
Beyond their adventures and escapades, however, is the kind a kind of honest and raw friendship that is so rarely seen on a big screen. There’s nothing ugly or vindictive about it, instead, they act more like steps in a ladder, constantly lifting each other up. The emotional climax of the film comes when secrets that were kept in an effort to spare each other’s feelings are spilled in front of a crowd of people. Wilde’s directorial choices keep the moment sincere and truthful. Throughout the entirety of the film, really, Wilde somehow manages to maintain resounding sentiment without teetering into the saccharine and superficiality of young love and drama.
Women rule the Booksmart universe. The writing team is made up of Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins (Trophy Wife), Susanna Fogel (The Spy Who Dumped Me), and Katie Silberman (Set It Up). It’s stars include the incomparably talented Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstien, who are supported by Jessica Williams and Billie Lourd. It’s hard to believe that this was Wilde’s feature directorial debut, as she handles the material beautifully—really highlighting and lowlighting what exactly it means to maintain a friendship, a kind of relationship that’s often overlooked as less-important and temporary.
Five out of five stars. Unequivocally, without a doubt. There’s a complexity and tenderness here that made my eyes water and my heart turn pulpy. I’m all in for any movie that can do that.