Its hard to believe that a decade of film will be ending in roughly six months. When the history is written on this decade, I think film lovers will agree that the output of teen comedies released in the 2010's (or as I like to call them, the Twenty-Teens) will rival those that came out in the 1980's. Thinking back on the decade at large, its rather remarkable how many great teen comedies have come out over this decade. "Sing Street," "Lady Bird," "The Spectacular Now," "Love, Simon," "Eighth Grade," "Mid-90s," "The Way, Way Back," "Kings of Summer," "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," "Dope," "Submarine," "Paper Towns" and "Staten Island Summer." And those are the only ones off the top of my head. Such an amazing rush of meaningful, honest, heartbreaking and delightful films. There could possibly be others I am not even thinking of.
Now, this is probably going to sound hyperbolic. But I think a king of this decade's output has finally been crowned. Granted, I just saw the movie tonight. So perhaps I am still afloat of the experience. I might not be though, because the high I am feeling tonight is a high I haven't felt initially compared to all the films I just listed above. The film I am talking about is, of course, "Booksmart." Its getting lots of attention from people, begging you to not forget about the little guy at the movie theater. There are lots of Goliaths playing at the theater right now, and its easy to forget the Davids. "Booksmart" demands your attention though.
Why, Shawn? Well, because its basically the most sincere teen comedy I've seen in awhile. Its a graciously updated teen comedy. Its clearly taking a cue or two from Hughes, but its also modern, mostly running on its own track. Honestly, at 30 years old, any movie that can make me feel nostalgic for my high school years definitely demands my attention. Growing up, watching the John Hughes era comedies. Watching things like "Clueless" and "10 Things I Hate About You" and "Superbad," those films seemed to prepare me for what I was going to go through as a teenager, as a high school student. Something like "Booksmart" makes me happy I had those experiences in the first place. Yes, they are harmone-ridden, they don't always make sense and everything was a big deal. But every era of our lives end up making us complete, even those pesky teenage years.
"Booksmart" is a defiantly honest film. It treats its high school characters like actual characters. Seems pretty easy, huh? Believe me, its anything but most of the time. Sometimes, Hollywood seems absolutely petrified to treat these characters with dignity. The business has been guilty of over-simplifying them, of treating them with too much slapstick. Well, not this new era. "Booksmart" does an overly-authentic job of capturing that moment of teen life. Wanting to fit in, wanting all the friends without losing your best friend, and also just not knowing what you want, and wanting that anyway.
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever play Amy and Molly, two bookworms all throughout high school. I knew plenty of people like Amy and Molly in my high school. There were probably tons of Amy's and Molly's in every high school in every year of history. They were the girls that had no social life. They hit the books, they worked hard, there were no weekends. Their goals were to get into Ivy League after four years of preparation then after college, change the world. That is their worldview and nothing else matters. Mostly, it seemed like nobody else mattered. Especially for Molly, school was everything. Getting into college was everything. She was above everybody else, because she was willing to put in the work.
Amy and Molly make it into Ivy League. The thing is, all the other kids. The cool kids, the social butterflies, and even the burnouts. They got into great schools too. Molly is baffled, how did "the others" get into schools just as great as her without putting in half the work she did? Molly feels like she's lived her life completely wrong. On the eve of their graduation day, Amy and Molly go to the party. THE PARTY. The party everyone is at. Molly now sees this forbidden fruit as a writ of passage. She must experience this once and she believes Amy should to.
This one night isn't just about getting to the party. That's just the set-up for the laughs, the ticking clock that gets put on all movies. Amy and Molly's acceptance and friendship is put on the line, and they begin to really find out who they truly are. The movie is anchored by the wonderful done by both Feldstein and Dever. I can't even begin to articulate the supporting performances in this movie. They are just too hard to pin-point. It all feels like the director (in this case turns out to be Olivia Wilde of all people) just found some random high schoolers at the mall and asked them to be in a movie. Every beat, every style, every piece of clothing, all feels authentic. The kids speak like they have their own language, that they aren't from planet Earth. It all feels right and it all makes sense.
If you end up catching up on this, you may feel a little nostalgic about those old high school days. Olivia Wilde takes a gigantic leap forward as an artist, and I can't wait to see how her directing future unfolds. She might end up being another example of an actor who ends up being more gifted behind the camera than in front of the camera. "Booksmart" is funny and raunchy and R-rated, but it is such a generous and lovely film at the same time.
FINAL GRADE: A