The high school comedy, often centered around a mammoth party, is one of those genres that can be a reliable source for laughs when done right. The new comedy Booksmart is the directorial debut for actress Olivia Wilde, and it focuses, unlike so many other of these comedies, on a pair of teenage girls.
It’s graduation time in the Los Angeles-based Crockett High School. Senior class president/valedictorian Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is ready to move on to Yale, but she isn’t willing to relax and have fun like most of her out-of-control classmates. Her best and only friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) is a quieter girl, a publicly outed lesbian with a thing for a skater girl-type with an indeterminate sexual orientation. Amy is going to do some work for the poor in Africa before going off to college herself. The two are feeling rather smug and superior to all of their other classmates as they worked hard, didn’t screw around, and got into good colleges. Then Molly learns the irresponsible kids also got into good colleges despite their irresponsible ways, and she realizes she has one night left to be irresponsible herself before she graduates from high school the next day. Bringing the reluctant Amy along, the pair head off to what sounds like the wildest party of the night despite having no idea where this party is actually taking place.
Comedies like this live or die based off the chemistry of the lead characters. Fortunately, Feldstein and Dever have great chemistry and come across as true longtime friends. Feldstein’s Molly is the more broadly-played, the crazier and more outgoing of the pair while Dever comes across as more internal and shy, reluctant to go along with Molly’s plans but still there for her best friend. The girls learn some lessons, get into some really funny scrapes, and comes across as likable and fun despite being as judgmental as they are at the start of the movie. Their classmates are pretty odd too, with special notice to Billie Lourd’s Gigi (who, even by the standards of American movies set in a high school, looks way too old to be in high school), an eccentric girl who seems to always pop up in the most unexpected ways. It’s not quite the female version of Superbad, but then again, it shouldn’t be. Instead, much of what the movie is about is less crazy, raunchy stuff as it is perception. Molly truly believes she knows better than just about everybody while Amy doesn’t exactly disagree with many of her friend’s assessments. And it turns out, Molly and Amy weren’t quite as out-of-the-social-loop as they believed themselves to be largely through the power of self-denial. Instead, we get a pair of likable girls, one judgmental and the other shy, learning some valuable lessons before they head off for the next stages of their lives. 8.5 out of 10 awkward Lyft trips.