Film Review: Booksmart

Beanie Feldstein stars as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, BOOKSMART, an Annapurna Pictures release.
Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures
Beanie Feldstein stars as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, BOOKSMART, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures
Image by Francois Duhamel for The UCSD Guardian

“Booksmart” portrays nostalgic high school experiences with fresh authenticity in a way that is both eagerly progressive and hilarious.

“Booksmart” is a high school coming-of-age comedy that follows best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) on their last days as high school seniors. Both Amy and Molly are high-achieving, intelligent students who will be attending Ivy league colleges after graduating. They are incredibly dedicated to their academic careers and spend a majority of their free time in the library, studying with each other. As a result, Amy and Molly are shocked when they learn that their peers, who party and haven’t prioritized their education as highly as they have, are also attending equally high-ranked colleges. Set against the sprawling city of Los Angeles, “Booksmart” captures Amy and Molly’s determined mission to let loose on the night before graduation.

This film is outstanding in a number of ways, the first being the nuanced characterizations of both Molly and Amy. Despite the fact that they are portrayed as studious and smart, both leads aren’t subjected to the trite stereotypes of other similar films. Instead of simply sticking to the world within their books, these young women are modern trailblazers, applying their studies in order to enact change in the world. Molly is an outspoken and energetic woman who is pursuing a future career in law. Amy is a fierce women’s rights activist who is going to Africa in order to make menstrual products for underprivileged communities.

Equally admirable is the handling of Amy’s character. She is a lesbian, yet her entire character is not built around the fact that she is queer. Casually queer female leads are few and far between, especially in comedies. That being said, the film never shies away from this important part of her identity. Her sexual preference is never made the butt of crass jokes and the corresponding visuals don’t feel gratuitous or fetishized. Instead, Amy’s sexual exploration feels awkward and real, lovingly crafted with a nuanced treatment typically reserved for straight characters in other coming of age films. This positive representation of a queer character is further supported by the film’s attention to youth culture and individuality, which are portrayed primarily through the film’s artistic choices.

The artistic direction of “Booksmart” pays detailed attention to its identifiable cinematography, which features an eclectic mix of colorful, slow motion, and perspective-dependent shots, reminiscent of independent films. This, in conjunction with the film’s funky synth-pop and rap soundtrack, develops the film’s aesthetic into something eclectic and vibrant. In an interview featured on Spotify, director Olivia Wilde made it a point to describe the importance of choosing the right music to set the tone of the film. This included songs tailored to capture characters’ personalities, stage dramatic entrances, and highlight LA’s idiosyncratic culture. The result has a wonderfully bold effect, matching neon lights with electrifying instrumentals and young fun with addictive melodies.

The satisfying alignment between thoughtful artistic choices such as these and innovative methods of storytelling make the film a resounding success. Many of the flavors that come together in the film take their influences from iconic teen films such as “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.” And yet, despite these subtle nods to classic films, “Booksmart” still feels new and different, paving the way for more authentic and funny films in the future. With a clear consideration for today’s sociopolitical climate, the film manages to be sensitive and heartfelt without losing any of its humor. Over-the-top and indulgent, “Booksmart”accurately captures the modern struggles of adolescence with dedication and heart.

Grade: A
Release Date: May 24, 2019
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein
Director: Olivia Wilde
Rated: R

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