Booksmart Review: A flawless first outing for Wilde as a director and an even stronger showing for women in film.
You know, realizing that were almost halfway through the year, I’ve come to a single realization that’s made 2019 a solid year thus far, women have been killing it this year. Doesn’t matter the genre, the story, or even whether they are in-front of or behind the camera, there have been some great female-led films that have graced the screen in 2019. Isn’t it Romantic showcased Rebel Wilson’s talents as a leading lady, Brie Larson helped create a box-office giant with Captain Marvel and had a directorial debut that was personal and engaging with Unicorn Store, and even one of the best performances of the year came from Lupita N’yong in Us. There’s plenty that hasn’t even been mentioned here and each new achievement creates a new pinnacle for women in film.
In her own directorial debut, Booksmart, Olivia Wilde has helped craft a freshly comedic, coming of age with a female perspective that breaks down barriers, creates incredibly funny dialogue, and boasts amazing performances from its two young leads.
On paper, the premise of Booksmart seems pretty straightforward and typical. The film follows two best friends, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), as they attempt to shed their “unpopular” and “nerdy” exterior by going to an end of the year party before they graduate high school. Along the way, they have some strange experiences that all work towards them having new understandings of their classmates. Just from the sound of it, you can easily think of it as the female version of Superbad, but it’s honestly so much more and possibly even better.
Right from the very beginning you understand both how Amy and Molly’s friendship is so tight and who they are individually. Molly’s strong feminist ideals are showcased in the opening with cuts to messages and photos from powerful women, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama, and her listening to a mantra that ends on a funny note. It’s a great way to introduce her as it shows her strong desire to succeed and be the best as well as why she comes off as cold and unapproachable to so many people. However, we see that Molly lets loose with Amy and that the two are basically inseparable and really care for one another. Amy, however, doesn’t carry the same confidence as Molly as she’s very reserved with everyone around her and struggles to make a move on the girl she likes, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga).
Often times, when movies have lead characters who are considered to be nerdy, unpopular, or quiet attempt to be popular or to “break out of their shells” only to realize that they’re great the way they are. Booksmart understand this premise is formulaic and instead use it to create some familiarity for viewers and then offer something that’s far greater. Instead Booksmart is a film about breaking perceptions that being in high school brings and this is at the heart of Molly and Amy’s adventure. Rather than just have its characters realize something about themselves, the film actually has Molly and Amy learn and talk to the other classmates and break the perception film’s build on “popular kids.”
Molly has always had this negative view of the more “popular” kids in her class and she’s always felt superior to everyone around her. Even though the film has a lot of characters that Molly and Amy interact with, you wouldn’t really notice it as everyone that’s introduced plays a part in Molly and Amy’s growth. Triple A (Molly Gordon), a girl given that name because she supposedly give handjobs as roadside assistance, is given a great scene with Molly later in the film and even a character I found annoying at first, Jared (Skyler Gisondo), really grew on me as the film lets him open up and offer something for viewers to take away from the film. Characters like this are often just easily labeled and come off like caricatures, but Booksmart knows better than that and creates realistic portrayals that are easy to understand and relate to, especially with the friendship that Molly and Amy have.
I instantly fell in love with the friendship and comedic chemistry Amy and Molly have and it truly wouldn’t be possible without the squadron of women that made this film possible. First comes the team of female writers, made up of Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman, that come together to create hilarious situations and great dialogue. Their dialogue allows Amy and Molly to bounce off each other greatly and the story feels as if it’s constantly building with each person they come across. Next is Dever and Feldstein who truly bring these characters to life and have some of the best chemistry I’ve seen this year. Once they start talking, they easily hook you and they live up to Amy and Molly’s desire to show how fun they are to everyone because I was sold in the first scene. They make you feel like a part of their friendship and every time they got into a compliment war with one another, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Last, and certainly not least, is Wilde as her direction is what brings their story to life and gives the film a realistic tone. She does an excellent job placing and capturing certain details that subtly come in to play later in the story. She also uses the camera to build atmosphere and the way she captures an argument between Amy and Molly later in the film is perfect. Wilde captures it all in one, long shot and does a great job both keeping you hooked on the argument that they’re having and what’s happening around them.
Honestly, calling Booksmart the “female version of Superbad” is a true disservice to the great material that’s built as Wilde and her team of ladies create something so much more and package in a legitimately flawless film that’s a new pinnacle for women in film. There’s so much more that I can say about the film, but what’s more important is to say is that you HAVE TO GO SEE IT. It’s absolutely worth your time and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed to hopefully see what Wilde and everyone involved in Booksmart has to offer in the future.