On the eve of graduation, two nerdy best friends realize they should’ve worked less and partied a bit more, and they aim to rectify that by cramming as much fun as they can into one night.
Okay, before we get started I feel like I need to say a few things first, and just to let you, the reader, know, I almost deleted these top paragraphs seventy times, but I think my opinion on this is a valid one, and I also think it’s a topic that really needs to be addressed if we as a society want to continue bettering ourselves.
This film has received amazing reviews, in fact, when I checked this morning, it was the third highest rated film (by critics) of 2019 thus far (it’s currently sitting at a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 84% on Metacritic). That’s just bonkers- this film has received better reviews than half of the best picture nominees last year. This movie is good- I’d go so far as to call it quite good- but I don’t think it deserves that high of praise. I think the reason this film got such high praise is because of the political climate we’re living in right now, and the messages this film tries to push. This is a female-directed, female-led film that is a) really funny, b) really well directed, and c) came out right after the #MeToo movement.
Yes, this film is good, but it also has some iffier parts.
That’s not to discredit this film at all; I really did enjoy this movie. It’s easily the funniest movie I’ve seen since last year’s “Game Night”. I just don’t think it deserves as high of praise as it’s getting. I think that movies like this (female led) do need to be seen more, and I think that because this movie turned out as well as it did, many critics are overselling how great it is, screaming: “SEE! SEE! WOMEN CAN DIRECT TOO!”
Yes, I know they can… Why is that such a big surprise to you, my dear fellow critics? I’m a feminist, but I’m also a realistic humanist. If we constantly make a big deal about female-led, female-directed films it will never be considered the new normal, and that’s the end goal, right? We want just as many female-led films as male ones, as many films from people from minorities as we do from the majorities… “Booksmart” was not good because any female director helmed it; it was good because Olivia Wilde (“Tron: Legacy”) helmed it. Praise her; she did an amazing job. I’m pumped to see what comes next from her because she’s proven she has a strong voice and some incredibly inventive ideas (just check out her Music Video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Dark Necessities’). Don’t downgrade her involvement in this movie to a feminist footnote you can tout just to push your agenda (even if it’s one that I agree with).
I guess what I’m trying to say is, can we just stop making a big deal out of this? Let the films/art/music/actor/person speak for themselves and the world will find balance on its own. If you weigh things on a curve, how can you ever expect things to be equal?
Anyways, on to “Booksmart”…
“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t broken any rules.”
High school seniors Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, “Beautiful Boy”) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein, “Lady Bird”) have been best friends for a while; they spend practically every waking moment together, and they have their whole lives planned out in front of them. The day before graduation, Molly has a realization that the two of them have done nothing but study their whole high school career, and decides that the two of them are going out for to a party. As their night progresses, things get a little wild.
So, really, this movie is the female version of “Superbad” (funny because Beanie Feldstein and Jonah Hill are brother and sister). The plot points are almost exactly the same: two longtime best friends right before they graduate high school try to celebrate by doing something they’ve never really done, and in the process they learn a lot about themselves and the world around them. Honestly, there are scenes that play entirely the same way as “Superbad”, but I honestly didn’t mind it completely. I feel like the whole get-to-the-party-comedy has become it’s own subgenre now, and whenever you start to see subgenres pop up, you’ll inevitably have similarities in events. What made this movie different was the chemistry between our leads, Amy and Molly, and also the timeframe. This movie came out twelve years after “Suberbad”, and the world as we know it has changed; this is the new millennial “Superbad”.
I loved the way that this film portrayed high school, and again, the changing face of it. Movies like this- teenagers going to parties and doing stupid things- got their start in the 70s and 80s with movies like “Animal House”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” or “Revenge of the Nerds”. The high schools in those films were filled with cliquey, abrasive groups of people who would pick on the downtrodden and outcast as if it was a normal part of an inescapable caste system. This film still has some of that- there are definitely moments of tension between certain groups of people, but it also takes a more honest approach: it shows us that no matter who they are, people are complex; they are not singularly one way or another. Just because they’re a jock doesn’t mean they can’t also be nerdy about some things, just because they mess around, doesn’t mean they can’t be smart; just because you’re gay doesn’t mean your best friend can’t be straight. This movie challenges norms and it pushes the envelope as far as portraying accurate representations of acceptance.
Of course, when you see a comedy, the first thing you want to know is, is it funny? Yes. Dear God, yes. This movie is freaking hysterical. There are great running gags, hilarious one-liners, and some of the best awkward comedy moments I’ve seen since early episodes of “The Office”. There are so many brilliantly uncomfortable moments in this movie where I was torn between turning away from the screen in pure embarrassment for the characters and just letting loose an unchecked cackle. There are a few gags that go on a bit too long, and some of the jokes don’t land as well as others, but I honestly think this film could go on to be revered as a classic like some of the movies I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, because, well, not every scene needs to be drum-tight in order for a viewing of a film to be rewarding. This is a very funny movie, and I’m sure I’ll watch it at least a few more times in my life.
Now, Olivia Wilde. Olivia Wilde’s directing is what really surprised me. I find a lot of comedies today are based around more improvisational humor; ie, comedic actors riffing off one another for multiple takes until they find something funny enough to use. This usually puts more power in the hands of the actors than it does the director. Movies like this can be pretty funny- most of the Judd Apatow comedies (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up”, “Your Highness”) use improvised takes. This film had a few scenes where it lets improve play out, but for the most part the directing is pretty tight. Wilde knows how she wants the scene to play out and she steers it in that direction. She made some cool choices in terms of creating an animated sequence and a brief dream-sequence dance, and there were a few really cool camera moves.
Overall, this is an incredibly enjoyable, incredibly well executed film that is getting just a bit overhyped. I would absolutely recommend this movie; I think Olivia Wilde, Kaityln Dever, and Beanie Feldstein all have some promising careers ahead of them, and I can’t wait to see what comes next from all of them.
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