Film Review: Booksmart

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart is a smashing success. It may not add anything new to the raunchy coming-of-age comedy sub-genre, but the film damn near perfects every enjoyable, hilarious aspect of it.

The vast majority of Booksmart’s story is predictable beat-for-beat if you’ve seen any Superbad-inspired comedies before, as it follows the tried and true “two best friends get into all sorts of shenanigans on the night of a party before they graduate high school” schtick, but it’s still incredibly fun. The insanely strong chemistry between its leads and a couple of surprisingly fleshed-out supporting characters give Booksmart more emotional weight than other movies like it without sacrificing any of the humor.

Kaitlyn Dever brings so much wit and effortless charm to Amy, and Beanie Feldstein makes Molly, a character that easily could’ve been obnoxious instead of endearing in lesser hands, entertaining and believable. Booksmart puts in the work to make its audience invested in its stars by letting us really get to know the girls before diving into most of its insanity, something I appreciated greatly. Most raunchy comedies also have at least one moment where I just can’t abide the decisions or rationale of one or both leads, but not Booksmart. From the sillier moments, like a discussion about a misused panda, to moments of heartbreak and self-reflection, I was always in Molly and Amy’s corner. That doesn’t mean that they don’t make a couple of hilariously ill-advised choices along the way though.

The rest of the cast is mostly stellar as well. There are a couple that felt more like high school comedy cliches than actual human beings, but most were much more, even completely flipping the opinion I had of them by the end of the film. Booksmart caught me by surprise more than once by giving Molly or Amy a moment with someone who was seemingly one-dimensional and allowing them open up about their perceived image, completely shattering the protagonists’ perception. The highlights among the high schoolers are Skyler Gisondo’s Jared, Molly Gordon’s Annabelle, and Diana Silvers’ Hope. Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow are also fantastic (obviously) as Amy’s parents, making the absolute most out of their scenes, Jason Sudeikis is brilliant as the Principal of Molly and Amy’s school, delivering one particular line that had me laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, and Billie Lourd’s Gigi will probably end up being the funniest character in any movie this year.

All of these actors are aided by a fantastic soundtrack with multiple phenomenal needle drops, and led by Wilde’s pitch perfect direction while nailing the delivery of Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman’s writing to create the funniest movie I’ve seen this year, and one of the best. I kind of want to say something like “it’s this generation’s Superbad,” but that won’t do it justice because, even though I still love Superbad, Booksmart is a better movie by a significant margin.

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