Booksmart (2019)

I feel every generation should have a movie or two that defines them and how hard it is to grow up during that period. We’ve had movies like “Dazed and Confused,” “Mean Girls,” and “Breakfast Club,” and we’re very fortunate to have had two very good movies (“Eighth Grade”) about the modern youth culture in the last five years. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is one of the finest drama comedies of the year. It’s an honest and entertaining look at two girls trying to find out who they are before they graduate high school and enter in to college–possibly without one another.

“Booksmart” follows Amy and Molly, two academic superstars and best friends who, on the eve of their high school graduation, suddenly realize that they should have worked less and played more. Determined to prove their classmates (and themselves) wrong, the girls set out on a mission to cram four years of fun into one night by attending the biggest party of the year. There, Amy hopes to confront her feelings for cute skater girl Ryan, while Molly hopes to catch the eye of school jock Nick.

Olivia Wilde has every opportunity to delve in to goofy teen movie tropes and just follow along with clichés, but “Booksmart” takes every opportunity to think outside the box. “Booksmart” is less about two girls trying to get to a party, as it is about two girls trying to realize that they might just survive the real world. As they learn over the course of the night, school is nothing like the real world, and they have to learn to roll with every obstacle and make it to the big party that helps them confront a lot of hard truths. Wilde thankfully doesn’t lose sight of the narrative once the girls reach the big party, and instead posits it as a very crucial development within the relationship and dynamic of these very tight knit girls.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are fantastic in the roles of Amy and Molly, two characters vastly different in motivation and back story that are drawn to one another by their own drive for achievement and ambition. They’re two characters that should be grating as over achievers and traditional do gooders, but they’re very easy to empathize with as the screenplay makes it very apparent that their own sense of over achieving masks a clear vulnerability between them. It becomes ever more apparent over the course of the narrative, especially with Dever’s effort to catch the eye of her first crush, despite never having officially come out of the closet to her parents. Molly’s journey becomes a lot more about working outside of her comfort zone and in many ways their eventually clash in surprising ways.

Amy and Molly are so easy to root for and care for, basically because despite their pigeonholing as over achievers, they’re quite good people that care for others and especially care for each other. One of the best running gags of the movie is the way they stop in their tracks to flatter each other whenever they appear in a new outfit. Dever and Bernstein’s delivery and chemistry is seamless, and you almost hope Olivia Wilde brings us back to see these two re-unite for another go around. That said, “Booksmart” is an excellent teen drama comedy that embraces its genre while also going in different, bolder angles. It promises to be one of the genre defining, generation defining comedies of the decade.