“Booksmart” Movie Review


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     One could make the argument it was 1999’s “American Pie” that jumpstarted a wave of R-rated raunchy teen comedies utilizing high school aged kids in a setting more often associated with those attending college and slightly more prepared to handle the life changing decisions they may face when sex, drugs, and alcohol are the foundation of the party.  And in much the same way Jim, Oz, Kevin, and Finch made their memorable pact, the characters in first time feature director Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart” embark on a similar journey, while learning plenty about themselves along the way.

     The marketing behind “Booksmart” seems to have left many with the impression the story is essentially a female centric rehash of “Superbad”, but that notion could not be farther from the truth.  Working from a script written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman, Wilde examines the complexities of teen life by dissecting the expectations we have of each other, as well as ourselves.  In doing so, the characters find out those perceptions of people we seem to believe as being reality are seldom the actual truth.  Adults regularly learn this each and every day, but to see this unfold through the eyes of Molly (Beanie Feldstein), the class Valedictorian who will be attending Yale in the fall, and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), equally as smart and attending Colombia, is a different kind of movie experience altogether.  Something that is greatly enhanced by Wilde’s creative direction.

     We catch up with Molly and Amy as they embark on what is the last day of their senior year.  The kids at this school are raucous to say the least, as the hallways are cluttered with hoards of unruly kids shooting fire extinguishes, throwing condom water bombs, and splashing confetti throughout the hallways.  All of this while Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) shuts his door.  Can you blame him?  You get the idea Wilde wants to paint a picture about today’s youth and the ways they have chosen to express themselves that may be adverse to the thinking of the adults in the room.  But this is a belief held by Molly as well, who has this idea that while her peers were out screwing around, thus ruining their chances at any kind of real future, she was outworking them by hitting the books as hard they were partying.

     An early scene in which Molly is in a bathroom stall unbeknownst to three of her classmates, only solidifies her stance when she overhears them talking about her lack of personality and shortcomings within the school’s ongoing popularity contest.  This leads to a confrontation where those perceptions are front and center.  The trio was discussing various sexual conquests while one of them was vandalizing the wall with a drawing of male genitals.  Molly confidently tells all of them they will amount to nothing in life, while she will go on to Yale and become rich and successful, thanks to her avoidance of the very social activities her adversaries thrive on.  But to her dismay, she finds out one of them is also going to Yale, while the other is going to Stanford.  In full panic mode, she dashes through the hallways asking people where they are going to school.  “Georgetown!” says one kid who she thought was an undedicated loser.  All of which leads to the film’s central plot.

     Molly and Amy realize they may have been missing out on something all along, and set out to find what ever that is in a night of hopping from grad party to grad party in an attempt to make up for their square behavior.  This, of course, proves to be no different than the boys in “American Pie”, as each has their own sexual urges to address in addition to the obligatory consumption of alcohol and drugs.  All of which is intended for the audience to see the characters come of age within a scenario where time is a factor.  There’s a sense these things need to happen in order for these girls to feel as though they have experienced high school the way that maybe they should have all along.

     Speaking for myself, I look at the work ethic and dedication displayed by Molly and Amy as being a strong suit that in no way detracts from who they are.  Others may disagree, but in today’s competitive landscape, the characters in the film who still managed to be accepted to a notable school, while drinking and partying on the weekends and feeding off their supposed popularity to feel good about themselves, will likely find they are shorthanded when the realities of life inevitably come their way.  In my mind, kids should be spending at least some of their weekends in high school working and learning the value of earning money, rather than it just being given to them so they can go whoop it up with their friends instead.

     Acting out in a manner that includes breaking the law and endangering others, which many of these characters do numerous times,  isn’t a necessary detour within the high school experience either.   But the fact we are talking about this subject means “Booksmart” is a strong enough film to foster discussion about how teens choose to navigate their way through the obstacles of high school life, while parents will undoubtably chime in as to just how much of a leash they really need.  GRADE: B