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'Booksmart' is lowbrow but funny and smart comedy 

In her feature-length directorial debut, actress Olivia Wilde helms this comedy about teenage besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), who on the eve of their high school graduation realize they squandered their chance at fun by concentrating too much on being academic superstars. Can they cram four years of missed shenanigans into one night? (102 min.)

click to enlarge NERD PATROL Academic superstars and besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, left) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) decide to make their final night as high schoolers one to remember, in Booksmart. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANNAPURNA PICTURES
  • Photos Courtesy Of Annapurna Pictures
  • NERD PATROL Academic superstars and besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, left) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) decide to make their final night as high schoolers one to remember, in Booksmart.

Glen Think of Booksmart as a female version of Superbad, but with even more heart. Like Superbad's Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill), Amy and Molly (played by Hill's real-life sister, Feldstein) are codependent high schoolers desperate for a good time before they move on to the next stage of their lives. While Amy is leaving for a summer trip to Africa to teach Botswana women how to make tampons—yes, a lot of the comedy is lowbrow—Molly is heading to Yale, a goal she sought her entire high school career. When she discovers all the students around her who partied their way through school also got into good schools, she realizes she and Amy could have done both—had fun and studied. The film is naturally filled with stereotypes that our heroines feel superior to, from jock Nick (Mason Gooding), who Molly has a secret crush on, to possibly-lesbian skater chick Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), who out-since-the-10th-grade Amy definitely has a crush on. There's also pretentious theater geek George (Noah Galvin); desperate-for-attention rich goofball Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and the rich girl he fawns over, Gigi (Billie Lorde); the girl with a slut reputation known as Triple A (for her roadside assistance, get it?); smoldering hot outsider Hope (Diana Silvers); and a few other high school tropes. We see them trade jabs in class and snowplow over each other's feelings, and eventually their interactions culminate in an outrageous house party. If you aren't bothered by potty humor and a series of cringe-worthy interactions, there's a lot of fun to be had here, not to mention poignant moments illustrating the meaning of friendship and the ways we pigeonhole and make judgments about one another.

Anna This one was a lot of unexpected fun. From the screwball antics to the surprisingly tender moments, it's a blast. It weaves a predictable path but nevertheless has a bunch of fun doing it. The film opens with Molly's morning meditation, which is basically a power rant saying "f*** you" to her fellow students who she feels are lesser, followed by a super dorky dance session when Amy swings by in her sweet Volvo to get them to school. The two are clearly inseparable nerds with a bit of a superiority complex, especially in Molly's case. Her better-than-you attitude quickly crumbles when she hears Triple A and a couple of kids she considers dumb jocks in the coed bathroom talking about what a "butter personality" she has. She tries to come out of the stall unfazed, with the retort of "I'm going to Yale, what are the rest of you doing?" Her bravado is quickly dashed when she finds out that even the "dumb jocks" got into great schools, and all of her hard work didn't put her ahead of anyone else. Recipe for the "good girls" to go out for one last crazy night of fun? You bet! The nuttiness amps up with every stop along the way as they work to finally get to Nick's house party. First, they wind up on a boat with Gigi and Jared, then at a murder mystery party at George's house, and finally to the coveted poolside party at Nick's. Of course, things don't turn out like a fairy tale, but for our benefit there's a whole lot of fun in this disaster of a night.

click to enlarge JUST SAY NO After being fed strawberries laced with drugs, Amy and Molly trip out, imagining themselves as Barbie dolls. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANNAPURNA PICTURES
  • Photos Courtesy Of Annapurna Pictures
  • JUST SAY NO After being fed strawberries laced with drugs, Amy and Molly trip out, imagining themselves as Barbie dolls.

Glen The interaction between the kids is definitely the film's highlight, but the "adults" in the film also up the humor. Amy's fawning parents, Charmaine (Lisa Kudrow) and Doug (Will Forte), are open to Amy's sexuality and vaguely think she and Molly are an item. They're even dorkier than their daughter in their lame attempts to be "cool." Jessica Williams stars as Miss Fine, the girls' hot teacher who respects their studiousness even though the girls' peers see it as a mark of their loser status. Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) is clearly exasperated by Amy and Molly's relentless earnestness and just wants to get them out of school. He later serendipitously turns up as their Lyft driver, much to his shame, which was a nice little side comment on the substandard pay for teachers. The film certainly gets better as it goes along, and its climax at valedictorian Molly's graduation speech and denouement as the besties must finally go their separate ways, are both pure gold. Yes, this is a dumb, lowbrow comedy, but it's also a smart coming-of-age story, an insightful examination of high school dynamics, and a heartfelt story of friendship. It's worthy of a trip to the theater. Of course, you do have to witness a girl getting barfed on, so prepare yourself.

Anna Sudeikis is pretty great as Principal Brown-turned-Lyft driver. He's got his minivan all decked out to party hearty. He's trying to play it cool with the girls, but when Molly suggests Amy check out a little girl-on-girl porn to study some moves, he accidentally taps into their audio and the whole thing plays out as terribly as you would guess. Most of the night the girls don't even know where Nick's big bash is, so a lot of their antics are in pursuit of that simple bit of info. They try doing what they do best—hitting up the local college library with their fake student IDs to try and outsmart the problem, but when all else fails, a convoluted plan to scare a pizza delivery dude winds up gifting them with the address. It's a typical high school big bash complete with drinking games and sexual tension galore. Both leads have been working actresses for a bit, but Booksmart is one that will put them on the map. It's gross and silly and all the great things that make slapstick-y humor great, but it's also smart and soulful and filled with a lot of relatable reality. This is worth a watch in theaters, and I wouldn't be surprised if I watch it again at home. It's just a good time. Δ

Split Screen is written by Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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