From its setup and concept, Booksmart could easily be just another teen movie where shenanigans ensue and jokes are sprinkled throughout and it’s either pretty funny or a dud. But through a tightly written script, actors that have great timing and nuance and a director that knows what they’re doing and brings a few bold choices to the table it is not only very funny but one of the best movies of this year!
Opening the movie is a girl sitting in her room, in a meditating pose and listening to a motivating track, the voice tells her to believe in herself, tackle all problems in the way of her goals and to all the people that look down on her “Fuck those fucking fuckers!” we also see that her room is decorated with an assortment of ribbons, medals, and inspirational women, this is Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and this tells us almost everything we need to know about her character. Pulling up outside her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), the two greet and break into dance over a track on the radio and they tell each other that they’ve missed one another even though they saw each other yesterday. This tells us everything we need to know about their friendship.
When they get to school it is established that it’s the last day of the school year, they are about to graduate to college, and both girls are very invested in extra curricular activities. The other students are more interested in the big party that will be happening tonight as they have for most of the year. during an encounter in the bathroom where Molly flaunts her getting into Yale to the popular girl (Molly Gordon) where she learns that she will also be going to Yale and the other students that she’s looked down on are all going on to good schools.
So it is the night before graduation, Molly is shook with the realization that they didn’t have to make a choice between school and having a social life that she dedicates herself to the idea that her and Amy will be attending the big party and have fun, experience and memories before entering college.
So this is a pretty standard setup for a teen comedy. We have youths, we have a party that lends itself to the very likely possibility of something crazy happening as well as characters that want something crazy to happen. Indeed crazy things do happen and their journey to the big party is anything but smooth, but it is the fact that all the jokes themselves are funny and not predictable that make this familure road seem refreshing.
When it comes to crime movies, or mysteries, or action movies it’s a simpler thing to make the story tight. Every character and element must serve a function, like the old phrase “Never introduce a gun in Act 1 if you’re not going to fire it by Act 3.” However comedy is actually a completely different beast, it is allowed to throw in all kinds of meaningless bells and whistles for the sake of it, there can be a moment or a character that comes in briefly and never makes a return and as long as we laugh I doubt anyone would really cry fowl about it. This, however, is both tightly woven and very funny, the characters hobbies, their wild actions, things that are said in passing come back and pay-off later down the road and they are all funny. This has set a dangerously high bar for comedy with not excess fat.
Filling the directing chair is Olivia Wilde. An accomplished actor in her own right now she helms her own project. Usually, when actors take up duties on the other side of the camera their focus goes to the actors and their performances. She definitely spends time with her actors, honing their performances but she has brought a keen visual flair to this project. She has experience shooting music videoes which was most likely the biggest help. Many of the jokes play out for their visuals, there are strong, bold lighting choices and there are a few times when she lets the story play out in a purely visual way. It also comes with one of the most unique and memorable drug trip-out scene you’ll see in a movie for a while.
There’s a great use of music in the movie. Much of the songs are “Gangsta Rap” which is about seeming bigtime and bragging about all your accomplishments and worldly possetions. Whenver the girls are in their true element it kick in but they are not doping the actthat would most likely be associated with the music e.g. going into a library to study. It is the knowing disconnect but filmming it like its legitimate that makes it funny. The score adds the the over-the-top overblown ego of these characters and situations. Later on in the movie there is a more tender score to even out the bombosity.
All these laughs and shock and colors are fun and everything but unless it all means something then the movie would just be like sugar, enoyable while your having it but the sensation quickly fades away. Underneath all the swearing, crazy acts and punchlines is a story about two best friends whos lives are about to change forever and just because your outside of the normal in your school life that doesnt make you better. There’s a tender, vry honest heart beating at the center of this movie and that’s what will stick with you after you see it and keep you coming back.
From it’s vivid characters that represent some form of insecurity/stereotype, to it’s basic setup that becomes on epic quest, to generous visual flourishes and a rock solid script for all this to be built upon, Booksmart is one of this years and a few other years best comedies.