Coming Of Age Tale;
Finally Feels Fresh Again;
Thanks To A Great Script.
Color me surprised, but I had no idea Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut would end up being this good. I expected to laugh and be mildly entertained by the done-to-death genre of coming-of-age sex comedy, but I left the theater with a wide smile, fully appreciaing something fresh, affecting and funnier than I’d anticipated.
It all starts with the script. Coming from a team of writers, it packs in a ton of laughs, zany situations that don’t feel tacked-on or forced, and fully-realized characters that don’t betray themselves in order to serve shortsighted goals and plot points. The fact that the writing team and director are all female may lead some to assume it has some preachy tones, but such isn’t the case. It is a funny romp about a deep friendship that never belabors its point and accomplishes what it sets out for.
Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are wonderful as best friends Amy and Molly, a pair of straight-A students who want to get in their first night of partying before graduation, and won’t let any of the obstacles that arise slow them down in their quest to finally cut loose, just this once. They have wonderful chemistry together, and really seem like lifelong friends. Their wit is quick as a whip and sharp as a razor, but it’s still easy to believe them in the roles of the unloved and unpopular. They each display emotional range when called upon to further character development and fully understand their roles with respect to each other and the larger story.
Wilde does a very admirable job in the director’s chair for a first timer, getting the performances she needs and overseeing all of the finer details. The pace is appropriately quick (sped along by the editing, often employing smash cuts to move things along and add to the humor), and she really nails the mood of each scene, often with characters as vibrant as their surroundings. The soundtrack is great, reminiscent of mid90s in terms of how well it matches to its time, place and overall mood. The way she handles the last party scene, especially Amy’s journey through the pool and subsequent interactions (including a fight with Molly that eventually sees its dialogue fade to mute while the music takes over) is superb and a standout of the film.
Booksmart doesn’t always go by the book, but it is indeed very smart. It doesn’t cut corners and the decisions the characters make aren’t always sensible, but are easy to understand. Amy, for example, attempts to hook up with a girl who normally picks on her, but it doesn’t feel like a cheap plot twist as much as an act of rebellion in a night full of such behavior.
Overall, this is a great little film that delivers across the board. I highly enjoyed its ode to teenage lashing out. Sometimes, the best way to figure out where you stand is to jump off a ledge.
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