Directed by Olivia Wilde
In Booksmart two best friends decide they must make up in one night for years of neglecting to have fun. They are Molly and Amy (Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever), and it’s the night before graduation. While everyone else breaks free from their final class with glee, Molly is paralyzed with resentment, having learned that all the kids she looked down upon have gotten into the same schools that she has.
To even the playing field she figures she and Amy must have the night of their lives. It’s not so much an unburdened night of intoxicated ecstasy but rather just another competition, one she means to win.
Like with other high school comedies, notably Superbad (2007) and Dazed and Confused (1993), that following night seems to last forever. Molly and Amy race, stumble and sneak their way through the high school hierarchy, which turns out to be much less of a hierarchy and more of a pleasant anarchy.
There are ostensible cliques, but Molly and Amy quickly learn that the playing field is pretty flat as it is. The kids established in act 1, a couple drama geeks and possible bullies, all turn out to be more or less thrilled to see Molly and Amy coming out to have fun. It’s they themselves, mostly Molly, who declared the distance between them, and their story arc here is to learn that those walls that separate them aren’t all that tall.
Booksmart is thrilling and hilarious. It’s tuned into the feeling of being a teenager, both the insecurity and unbridled conviction. The first half of the film deals mostly with that insecurity, with Molly and Amy commenting on tertiary characters from afar both to set the scene for the audience and just in the ways we all tend to comment on people from afar. Then once the long night begins the two best friends as well as all of those tertiary characters are handled with kindness. They aren’t meant to be mocked but neither are they meant to be overly celebrated. Those characters are framed in a way that calls attention to maybe some of their more shortsighted impulses, but the film as a whole celebrates that energy.
It’s about people at a time in their life in which anything is possible, and you need only get out of your own way. Everyone here is full of positive secrets, and over the course of the night they become less defined by broad characteristics and instead of a more wholesome humanity. They just want to have a good time, and they don’t want to stop anyone else from doing the same.
By the end of the film you can really feel that sense of community. Characters who may have never spoken to each other feel bonded just for being in the same time and place. Molly and Amy for their part find their place in that community and reinforce the bond they already shared.
It’s all quite swell and wholesome, and the film is hilarious too. There may be one too many needle drop moments, but for the most part this soundtrack of contemporary pop music perfectly channels the range of emotions and energy here. It’s kind of manic, both rousing and full of angst, suggesting the quick succession of peaks and valleys that can fill both a single night as well as an entire adolescence.
Up Next: The Morning After (1986), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Sightseers (2012)