Booksmart is a 2019 coming-of-age comedy movie directed by Olivia Wilde (in her directorial feature debut), and stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in the lead roles.
Let me start off with a sweeping statement.
Booksmart, in my opinion, completes the recent trifecta of top-tier female led coming-of-age films. After The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird, Booksmart seals its place in that category and in my heart forever.
I’ve seen the comparisons to Lady Bird, and Superbad, but Booksmart manages to become an entirely different animal. While obviously it shares some similar beats (and cast members), Wilde manages to capture an essence of something that feels fresh and dynamic, and that’s hard to do in a genre that’s already been filled with some classic movies.
Booksmart’s plot is a simple one: two over-achieving seniors plan on having one last night of wild fun before they graduate to make up for the time they spent studying. It’s what the screenwriters (four women, which is important to some of the film’s success) do with it and where it goes that makes it so charming and elevates it beyond genre conventions.
The characters feel lived-in, like the writers took them from actual people they knew or might have known in their own lives. They are written in a way that feels like in any other movie, they would be complete stereotypes. But every character has a hidden facet of their personality that defies their clichés, and it’s those little surprises along the way that make Booksmart so good. The supporting characters aren’t just there for background noise, they’re fleshed-out people with dimensions and depth and it’s so refreshing to see movies move away from depicting stereotypes for a cheap joke.
Now I want to talk about the performances, but Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are absolutely note-perfect in this film. Their friendship chemistry is off the charts and they really take the characters are make them feel immersive. Feldstein imbues so much wit and energy into her performance, while Dever is more subtly brilliant, using her brilliant comedic timing and compelling screen presence to complement Feldstein in the most perfect way. I can’t stress enough how much I loved their performances. Personally, I think they’re both on a level occupied by Emma Stone in Easy A, Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird. Between the writing and direction, the two have plenty of opportunities to shine and show off their massive talent levels.
The supporting cast are also fantastic, particularly Billie Lourd, who gives one of the best scene-stealing performances I can remember. Every time she’s on screen, it’s absolutely hilarious and her larger-than-life character really is missed whenever she’s off screen for too long. Jason Sudeikis also has some really funny moments, especially one line spoken in a car that had me laughing so hard that I had to fight my laughter to hear the next part.
It’s not just the writing and performance that makes this apart from the rest. Olivia Wilde really has a talent for directing, and she joins the group of actors-turned-directors who put in the finest of debuts like Paul Dano with the vastly underrated Wildlife, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born and (once again) Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Wilde really knows where to put her camera and how to mine the most out of every single moment, there isn’t a second of this film wasted. No shot lingers for too long, the cuts feel clean, the camera movement are very impressive. There’s one sequence that’s just bursting with originality and in any other movie it might feel out of place or jarring, but Wilde integrates it so organically that you can’t imagine it done any other way. She took some risks, and they succeeded. You can really feel the love and passion that she has for this project, every brilliantly-composed frame is full of detail and a meticulous care that sets her direction apart from a lot of other directorial efforts. Her work with the actors is obviously stellar, and the casting is so spot-on. It’s like every decision made was the right one.
I might have some nitpicks, but I’m so blown away by how much I loved it that I can’t concentrate on them. I don’t see myself in a lot of movies in the genre, but I saw a piece of myself in every character in Booksmart. There’s one narrative moment in particular that really hit very close to home and made me feel a bunch of things that I wasn’t expecting. So kudos to Olivia Wilde for getting me all in my feelings around a bunch of strangers at the ODEON Screen Unseen.
I could probably talk about this movie for a lot longer, but I would just be repeating myself by saying “IT’S SO GOOD” and “I LOVE IT” and I’m not really pushing the boat out with my criticism. I just want to say that I adore this movie and everything it stands for, its comedy and its heart are really refreshing to see and I cannot wait to see it again.
Rating: 10/10 – see this movie as soon as you possibly can!