Released in 2019. Written by Emily Halpern, Beanie Feldstein, Susanna Fogel, & Katie Silberman. Directed by Olivia Wilde. Starring Kaitlyn Dever & Beanie Feldstein. Running time 1 hour 42 minutes.
Critics and reviewers love this film being female centered; however, I would suggest this may have kept it from being a true teenage coming of age film. These two girls are super achievers who have judged their peers for having fun instead of taking their futures seriously. They find out the night before graduation their peers have managed to balance fun and academics while in high school. The two girls decide to go to a party so they can experience at least one teenage rite of passage before heading off to their summer of changing the world and beginning their college academic journey.
What I did like:
The style is quite engaging to watch with the costuming, sets, scene set ups, and lighting. It’s clear director Olivia Wilde had a fun time creating a world with a lot of color, fun, and what she thinks female empowerment looks like. So, pretty on the surface but so ugly once you peel back the layers…
The main characters were regular girl type females versus the usual starlet which was nice. I could relate to them on that level. I liked the notion of other people’s perception not always aligning with your own which is often the case regardless of age. There was one scene I thought really summed up the whole film (although it didn’t seem to have much impact overall): the fight between Amy and Molly at the party after Amy tells Molly she wants to leave. The only scene where the characters actually show their true colors and feelings about one another even though Amy is the only one who (sort of) grows from it. The cast did well with their respective characters as stereotypical teens and inept, clueless, or inappropriate adults. Jared’s light blue 1977 Pontiac Firebird with orange and yellow flames was sweet, any scene with Gigi, and the underwater swimming sequence finish off the elements of the film I liked.
What I wished was better:
While the characters seemed to be fully developed, none of the inter-personal relationships were believable by any stretch. Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is obnoxious, elitist, a bully, an opportunist, a bit of an emotional sadist, and rude. Her character offers no redeeming qualities for herself or any of her relationships. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), on the other hand, seems more genuine in nature, easy going, and accepting. Which is why I don’t accept these two people as friends. On any level. Whatsoever. Throughout the film, Amy pumps Molly up with compliments, support, and her friendship; while Molly only seems to use Amy as a target for her rude comments, a person to make fun of, and as a sounding board for her own personal narcissist career goals. The dialogue between them was hard to listen to. I found nothing refreshing or interesting about it or them. I felt bad for Amy 90% of the time. Molly never respects any of Amy’s wishes, ideas, or input. Not once. I just cannot justify the whole graduating class cheering after Molly delivers her speech after everything she has said and done. She has essentially bullied or demeaned every person she came into contact with and suffered ZERO consequences.
This film has all the usual “high school seniors” along with their usual accompanying character traits. The jocks, the drama kids, the skater, the bohemian chick, the slut, the smarties, the druggies. I mean, I guess if the shoe fits…the problem is the characters are just a means supporting the end for Molly. Human stepping stones to reach her goal of Molly not only being the smartest (elitist) but being seen as fun amongst their peers (who aren’t really their peers–just classmates). Plus, nothing significantly positive happens over night in the real world. The (teenage) world doesn’t change over the course of a couple of hours because two girls finally make it to a party, connect with a few people they have been hating on for years, have a big fight in front of everyone, and then show up the next morning at graduation like hero’s. It just doesn’t work that way. You cannot make fun of your “best friend” over and over and say you’re the reason they do anything in life–basically take a big crap on them–and then show up the next morning like nothing ever happened. It just doesn’t work. Words matter. Actions matter. But. according to this film, neither of those matter.
The adults in this film leave much to be desired; however, it isn’t their fault. Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte play Amy’s parents who are super sweet, understanding, and supportive of Amy. And are completely oblivious to Molly’s inappropriate behavior and hints about Amy’s sexuality. They make a huge graduation spread of appetizers and are super gracious when Amy and Molly tell them they have other plans. I feel like Amy would’ve had a better relationship with her parents, ate some food, let her fawn over her a little, and still have time for the antics. Jason Sudeikis plays a principal with little interest in his job. It’s clear he’s burnt out, doesn’t care, and to make extra money he works as a Lyft driver. (A jab at the public school system?) His car is decorated like a 70’s brothel which just isn’t realistic or professional. (But he isn’t! Get it?) Jessica Williams plays Miss Fine, a young teacher who befriends Molly and Amy and comes to their rescue when they’re left stranded at the pizza joint. She ends up going to the party as well and hooks up with one of the graduating students. (He was held back twice, so he’s really 20, so that makes it okay….NO. NO, IT DOESN’T. This bothers me because it continues the stereotype that all teen boys have a fantasy of hooking up with an attractive female teacher and that the hook up doesn’t result in traumatic shaming for the student or jail time for the teacher which is what happens when done with a female student and a male teacher. Someday, when the male student realizes this and uses the #MeToo, will he be shamed or mocked?)
The scenes holding this all together are frustrating as well. From the over the top “you’re the prettiest, no you’re the prettiest” exchanges to the magical romantic dance sequence between Nick and Molly then “you’re a mix of Slytherin and…oh my gosh, I am!” to the awkward sex scene in the bathroom, to Amy creating a diversion when the police show up to Amy getting released from jail to driving Jared’s sweet ride to graduation…the pizza delivery guy scene…the barbie doll scene…The graduation scene with Molly and Jared. The continuity issues between characters and places and events…It asked more of me than I was willing to give it. None of them seemed remotely natural or plausible.
I get it’s supposed to be a teen comedy, somewhat grounded in the reality of teens looking for acceptance and understanding while they mis-navigate the perilous world of high school, their choices, and their future. It just didn’t hit the mark for me. My brain signaled me way too many times the enormous red flags of the Molly and Amy’s relationship and the too little too late concept of waiting until the last day of school to finally get to know your classmates and realize how wrong your were this whole time. While it’s true high school teens are bombarded with misinformation, rumors, pressure, and the desperate need for acceptance by their peers; this film reinforces how little we know about expressing it on film from a teen girl’s perspective even though it was written and directed by women.
It isn’t a terrible film but it isn’t great either. I give it a rating of 2 out of 5. Available on HULU and Amazon. Watch the trailer below:
1 thought on “Booksmart”
You were way nicer to the movie than I was. I fucking hated this movie. I found neither character to be likeable and yeah. These movies and shows about older teachers fucking younger guys always has to be older woman and younger guy. If it was older guy and younger girl. People would have a fit