‘Booksmart’ is the best kind of bonkers
“Booksmart” is a glorious celebration of the joys that come with being a teenage dirt bag. It’s also Olivia Wilde’s (“Life Itself”) directorial debut. It’s also so, so good. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, “Them That Follow”) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein, “Lady Bird”) are high school seniors who devoted all their energy to getting into stellar colleges. They had no fun and at the bitter end of the school year, they realize that all the kids who did have fun got into the same schools. They make it their mission to finally go to a party that night, and what ensues is the most sincere odyssey of adolescent stupidity.
Amy and Molly’s friendship is the bedrock of the whole film, which is why “Booksmart” manages to mean something, instead of falling into the high-school-romp wasteland. The two are involuntarily high in the suburban grass when Molly starts undermining how intensely she’s pining and Amy not-so-gently tells her to shut up. Without hesitation, Amy says that if a certain boy is who Molly wants then that certain boy is who she deserves. Duh. Their love for each other is effortless, and that’s what makes it so honest. This movie shows women at their very best, doing dumb shit for each other because they know it’s needed and because they want to.
All of these characters are clever in the stupid way that only high school seniors can be, and they’re all really sweet, even when they’re being assholes. There’s lust and love and even some loathing, but there is never malice. They’ve got none of Ferris Bueller’s irresponsibility, but they’re all just as big of shitheads.
Speaking of shitheads, all hail Gigi (Billie Lourd, “Billionaire Boys Club”). She rolls in to Leikeli47’s “Money,” and, from start to finish, nothing she does makes any sense. Lourd is hot in the supernatural way that makes her seem like she can do absolutely anything, and Gigi operates under that same power. She’s a crazy queen concoction of a character, somehow elevating all those traits to create a caricature that’s entirely her own.
Fast but never rushed and unexpected but never overdone, “Booksmart” assertively cusps every coming-of-age trope it abides by. The class burnout isn’t going to college; he’s working at Google. The wannabe fuckboy drives a car painted in flames, and he wants to build airplanes and produce musicals. The resident hunk can clock your Hogwarts house over a nervous round of beer pong. Swoon.
The film itself is beautiful. The skateboards are sexy and the confetti falls slowly. When my heart broke, Amy was underwater, and when it burst, Molly was hallucinating a musical number. There’s enough whimsy to wade through the kind of unbounded optimism that’s specifically reserved for high schoolers making fools of themselves. But it’s all serious, you know? High schoolers are dreamy, but they’re also very intense. They feel everything — every unrequited love and missed opportunity alike. With a gorgeous ease, Wilde found a way to weave in the heartache with the hope.
It feels disrespectful to say I’m proud of Olivia Wilde because she is Olivia Wilde and I am dust, but I feel so much pride for this film that I had absolutely nothing to do with. This is a female-driven comedy that is always progressive but never tries too hard to be. It is so normal because of how confidently it just keeps going. This movie knows what it’s worth, and it never settles for jokes that aren’t good enough or characters that are mean for the sake of being sharp.
The whole film feels like “oh baby,” really, which plays near the end because Olivia Wilde is fucking cool, and of course she listens to LCD Soundsystem. Those first 45 seconds are like tripping through a summer rain: They’re tepid and anxious and so quintessentially teenage. Then the synth kicks in, and the whole world explodes.
More like this
State Theatre, GQT Quality 16, Ann Arbor 20 + IMAX