During this time of year, the students of Wilton High School are counting down the days until summer, while the seniors wait in anticipation for graduation. As this happens, they may look back at all the crazy, fun, and memorable times they had and those that they will remember going into college and beyond.
Booksmart follows along with this time of reflection as Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut tells of two bookworm high school seniors, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), who have been hitting the books and building their resumes, while the other students in their class have been goofing off and having fun, not taking school as seriously as they do. Molly believes that she is somehow better than everyone else and “dominating the day,” by becoming valedictorian and getting into Yale, in order to show she is smarter and superior to her classmates, with Amy following along.
However, when Molly finds out that all the people she thought were losers–the jocks, skaters, and slackers–have all gotten into similarly prestigious colleges without working their butts off like she did, both girls decide to go to their class’ last party and have the “true” high school experience before graduation the next day. Thus, a journey through Los Angeles ensues, with the girls “breaking the rules” they had bound themselves to for the last four years.
The structure of the journey is no different from those in previous films that have focused on the teenage coming-of-age story. Superbad is the one that immediately comes to mind, as both movies depict students that want to fit in but are held back by their own mentalities. But what Booksmart does to divert from being just another Superbad is not only gender-switch the main roles. Instead, it creates its own identity in this genre.
The on-screen comedy is refreshing and realistic, with the focus solely on Dever and Feldstein’s great chemistry throughout the film. Scenes that are meant to be awkward and weird are either enhanced with long pauses or quick reactions, which builds on the comedic timing–the girls nail it every time. The depiction of the various high school cliques, especially the drama kids, shows a campy exaggeration of what these people can be like.
But what the film does even better is how Wilde is able to portray her main characters. Molly’s world is turned upside-down when, assuming that her classmates who don’t work the books are dumb, her belief in high school stereotypes is shattered by the news of their college choices. Ironically, she’s the only person that seems to fit a stereotype–always sticking to her books, living in the library, and staying away from social events.
This realization prompts Molly and Amy to seek a change and abandon what they thought was the most important part of high school. Both of their perspectives of their classmates change as the night goes on, discovering more and more about what their fellow students are really like. Stereotypes are meant to be broken, and the film shows that it’s important to find out who people really are without trying to label them.
What Booksmart achieves is to get the main characters to propel themselves to want to change how others look at them, learning that it’s never too late to change yourself for the better. But, it’s always good to remember that if you didn’t have the best high school experience, college just might be the best do-over button.
Booksmart is rated R, and is playing at the Wilton Bow Tie Cinema in Wilton Center.