BOOKSMART gets 8/10 Party smarter

Directed by Olivia Wilde

Starring Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Williams


On the eve of graduation Molly (Beanie Feldstein) comes to the realisation that despite their incredible academic achievements, both her and her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), have missed out on much of the fun of high school. Determined to correct this Molly decides to crash the coolest graduation party of the night, despite having only a vague clue as to where it’s located. What eventuates is a night of mayhem and adventure for the two academic overachievers.

Booksmart is relentless in its comedy, approaching the coming-of-age/teen comedy genre with a fervour. It is one mad night, seldom leaving the film space to breathe, but leaping from one escapade to the next. First time feature director Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) handles this with a consummate skill, knowing when to plunge the audience into the heart of the storm, and when to pull back – be that an idyllic moment in a pool, an argument that has gone beyond words into devastating consequences, or a drug-fuelled stop animation sequence. There is a care to the construction here, so Booksmart can cover a lot of ground in its hour and 42 minute run time, both in terms of the various events of the night, and the emotional realisation and growth of the primary characters.

A substantive amount of that charm rests in casting. Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) dominates the screen every moment she’s on it, bringing a dorky charisma and wild enthusiasm. To her co-star Kaitlyn Dever’s credit, she manages to withstand this relentless onslaught of charisma, and even as the more retiring friend, is able to create amazing on-screen chemistry. This is a phenomenal display of friendship, as both girls bounce off each other with wit and verve. It’s a combined screen presence that few of the rest of the cast are able to match (despite respectable performances), although Billie Lourd does shine through. Weather she’s inspired by her mother (Carrie Fisher), or grandmother (Debbie Reynolds), she comes close to stealing the stage as wild, drug-inspired muse of proceedings, Gigi.

Booksmart gives us a worthy update to the teen comedy genre, and a film that seems destined to achieve a beloved cult status sitting alongside many of the greats of the genre (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls etc). It pays homage to these, but certainly reflects the modern world, both in its greater representation of diversity, and its look at a more focused and determined teenage culture having to find a balance between career and personal life at a younger age than previous generations. A great debut film, and hopefully only the first step on the way to greatness for many of the talented cast.