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Everybody knows that iconic scene. A young Judd Nelson with his left fist raised in the air marches across the football field triumphantly to the backdrop of Simple Minds ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. After 12 years of public education (the most un-sixteen year old to ever play a sixteen year old may I add), he finally learned something. And he got the girl.
When it comes to the high school movie, audiences know that what’s taught in the classroom has very little to do with one’s journey of self-discovery. In the case of The Breakfast Club, that learning came from a day spent in detention with peers who could not be more different. In Lady Bird, it happened when Christine finally moved away from the over-bearing mother and hometown she’d ‘hated’ for so long. In Booksmart, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, it happens at a party the night before graduation.
The storyline recalls Superbad: two outcasts in their last year of high school hope to lose their virginity at a high school party. This story, however, is told through a female persepctive. Over 100 minutes, class know-it-alls, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) tick the boxes of their to-do-lists in a race to make four years of experiences fit into one night. With a punchy soundtrack, a sharp insight into teenage insecurities and several hilarious scenes, Booksmart is a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s oversatuated with cheesiness.
The film really kicks off when Molly realises that despite being the only one of her class married to the library for four years (the work payed off, she’s valedictorian), her partying peers have still managed to get accepted into excellent colleges.
When sitting in a totilet cubicle, correcting the spelling mistakes on grafitti she overhears her classmates making fun of her. Not one to shy away from conflict, she exits the stall to stand up for herself and namedrop the Ivy league school where she’ll be building her bright future next year. It is to her horror and dismay that she learns her peers will be right there with her. They had it all while Molly and Amy stayed at home. Amy, who came out as gay over two years ago, has never kissed a girl. Molly, decidely the more assertive of the two, makes the call that this all changes tonight. They’re going out.
Feldstein played the role of sidekick next to Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird. But here she’s given much more room to shine. Her character is so likeable. She’s bodacious but not obnoxiously loud and is the perfect counterpart for Amy who is shy and utterly unsure of herself. She’s still coming to terms with her sexuality and Molly is helping her through that. Wilde handles these conversations between the pair in a delicate way but she doesn’t shy away from the reality of the nitty gritty. The girls talk about sex and porn freely in a manner that reflects self-discovery rather than a laugh out loud “gross” moment we’d come to expect in these kind of movies.
The journey to the party comes with many obstacles and detours as is expected. It’s on these shortstops where some of the funniest and craziest moments happen. The discovery that their high-school principal (Jason Sudeikis) is a part-time uber driver to supplement his income is already awkward enough as it is. Yet it gets worse when he mistakes their request for a phone charge as a request to stream music and they all have to listen to the audio of the “research” playing on Amy’s phone, prior to her anticipated hook-up that night. These cringy scenes will make you put your hands over your eyes. However, they’re essential to the film’s light-hearted tone which dips in and out when things get to serious.
Booksmart is an excellent directorial debut from Wilde. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to depict underrepresented groups and topics in a thoughtful way. It’s only shortcoming is in its overtly fantastical nature. Despite the whole premise of the movie being built upon how hard work doesn’t necessarily equal success, we never really delve into what does instead. Fair enough, it’s set in the Valley where people are wealthy. But the effortless success story is hard to buy. Are people’s parents involved in a bribery scandal? Are they able to use their partying as a guise for 10 extra curricular activities? Knowing the average acceptance rate for Ivy leagues, it just doesn’t add up.
That said, Booksmart is still very fun. The chemistry between the girls is fantastic and the dialogue is just so natural. Definitely add this one to your summer watch-list.