Review: ‘Booksmart’ (shattering windows)

Making up for four years of studying with one night of (fingers-crossed) mischief.

On the eve of their high school graduation, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) beam with confidence over excelling in their schoolwork, smug in the knowledge that they avoided temptations while their classmates appeared to party their futures away. As the last day winds down, Molly learns to her horror that everyone else also got into great schools… but still got to do all the rebellious teen things she and Amy never did. With the realization it never had to be one or the other, the two best friends make a pact to “do it all” in one night by crashing the biggest graduation party in town… if they can figure out where it is.

From the American Pie series to Superbad, generational coming-of-age films are nothing new, but rarely do they feature intelligent and driven young women, almost never in a positive manner, and heaven-forbid be rated-R. From first-time director Olivia Wilde (yes, that Olivia Wilde), the trailer for Booksmart promises zany high-schooler feminine-powered hi-jinks, which sounds immediately more adult than one would assume the target audience actually is. Can a cast of relative unknowns and an actress-turned-director set a different standard in a teens-approaching-adulthood film while finding an audience worthy of appreciating such an effort?

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world,” as they say. The movie title implies the opposite of street-smart — insert fish-out-of-water joke here — but it’s really a story of assumptions: about others, ourselves, and regarding life itself. There are intentional moments of amusement, but the organic humor is timed to lighten the impact of drama without lessening it. The striking overall theme is that even within the same generation, people have been sold on the propaganda that the new generation can’t be trusted to carry the proverbial torch and civilization as we know it is therefore obviously doomed. Viewers learn what the characters learn: that everyone gets by as well as they can — with whatever they can, however they can — and no one is a hero or villain all of the time (except that one guy).

Similar in style and tone to its predecessors, the film initially paints characters with broad strokes before focusing on tiny details, allowing viewers their assumptions before letting everyone in on the truth; it sounds more like Eastern storytelling than Western. On-screen, it plays more commercially than many distinctly Indie films such as Eighth Grade or Mid90s, but exemplary casting makes the performances very real; time will tell if it was due to talent or young actors being comfortable being themselves in front of cameras. From introduction to conclusion, Booksmart is perfectly constructed and well-edited, and while that shouldn’t feel unusual, it’s kind of a big deal that it does.

Maybe it’s because the focus is on smart young women instead of getting girls drunk like in Superbad (or whatever they’re doing in the upcoming ‘tween practically-a-remake Good Boys). Whether it was the perfect storm of direction, writing, and casting or a happy Casablanca accident, it’s amazing a film exists nowadays sending a positive message that everything is going to be all right… and it won’t require a superhero to save the day.

Booksmart is rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking involving teens — as if that’s anything new, you prudes.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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