by Toby Woollaston
Actress and activist, Olivia Wilde, has kicked off her feature directing career with a trailblazing teen comedy that belies her inexperience as a film-maker. Helped by a stable of female-centric writing talent (including Susanna Fogel: The Spy Who Dumped Me), Booksmart is a production that places young women stories front-and-centre without needlessly drawing undue attention to a “look at me, look at me” political agenda. Rather, it quietly acknowledges the gender-correctives that’ve recently hit the headlines and moves on with a normalising modern-day coming-of-age tale. Despite its many genre cliches Booksmart still feels fresh and honest thanks to Wilde’s inventive direction.
Wilde recently described her film as “the Training Day of high school movies.”—an odd comparison, although parallels can be drawn within Booksmart‘s darker recesses. More-so, Booksmart appears to sit somewhere between the goofy style of Superbad and the feminist smarts of Lady Bird.
Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) play two high-achieving students, Amy and Molly, in their final year of high-school. Putting their social lives on hold in order to get into top Universities, the pair are disgruntled to learn that their hard-partying counterparts have also been accepted into similar institutions. Not ones to miss out on a teenager’s rite-of-passage, they head off to make up for lost time at the end of year party.
It’s not a particularly taxing plot, but what it lacks in brain-stretching complexities it counters with a quick-witted staccato styled humour, some richly fleshed-out characters that are a delight to be around and two leads that radiate an immense amount of chemistry. Amy and Molly crackle and pop with enthusiasm as their giddy level of geeky charisma invites us to plumb the depths of their fomo and then be buoyed by their comical naivety.
Add a menagerie of vibrant characters (including an amusing turn from Wilde’s husband, Jason Sudeikis), along with some very dexterous writing and Wilde’s whip-smart direction and you have a hilarious teen comedy that’s infectiously charming. Well worth getting a hall pass for.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.