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First run Theater cinema

The feature directorial début of actress Olivia Wilde (Rush, Her, Life Itself) could well be remembered as the coming-of-age picture for the post-millennial generation. Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) star as Amy and Molly, two academically high-achieving best friends who, on the eve of graduation, suddenly realize that they missed out on all the fun parts of high school. Desperate not to arrive in college as ill-equipped, socially inept losers, they attempt to cram four years of missed experiences into one crazy night. That “wild last night of high school” premise has been done many times before but never quite like this. Rather than simply set out to prove that girls can be as raunchy as boys, like many female-driven R-rated teen comedies of late have done, Booksmart sets the bar higher.

There are many high school pictures that explore how smart “dumb kids” can be, but this is the first teen film I’ve seen to really explore—hilariously and without condescension—how dumb “smart kids” can be. Amy and Molly may be brilliant young women with bright futures ahead of them, but they’ve got a lot to learn about life. And watching them navigate everything that comes their way in this one outrageous night while still maintaining the standards of their woke, respectful generation is laugh out loud funny but also rather illuminating. Because while the styles, pretensions, idioms, and identities of contemporary young people get mocked, and the hypocrisies and ignorance of self-righteous youth are given a comeuppance, Booksmart is the least mean-spirited teen comedy I’ve ever seen. It upends the notions that young millennials are too politically correct to have any fun or that being respectful of all people equally means that we all must censor or police ourselves to the point where our very freedoms are at stake. 

All the young characters in Booksmart (not just the leads, but everyone in this exquisitely cast ensemble) demonstrate how this type of mindfulness is just second nature to many of this upcoming generation. Even the adult characters, though played a little more broadly than the kids, are presented as allies with wisdom to impart regardless of behaviors that might be embarrassing, out of touch, or even criminal! But the film also explores the world of difference between claiming to be virtuous and actually living that truth. That fine line is explored with nuance and wit by Wilde and the screenwriters: Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, who’s original spec script has been knocking around Hollywood for almost a decade, and Katie Silberman and Susanna Fogel, who revised and polished it.

Ever since I’ve been alive there have been terrific coming-of-age comedies that not only resonated with their intended demographic but also encapsulated what was most distinctive to the teenage experience of its era. Some are nostalgic period pieces such as American Graffiti (1973), Porky’s (1982), and Dazed and Confused (1993), but more often they are contemporary stories made by people only slightly older than the main characters, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), American Pie (1999), and Superbad (2007). Of all these pictures, which Wilde calls “generational anthems,” Booksmart is closest in spirit to Superbad because of its 24-hour structure, the low social status and emotional connection of the two protagonists, and the blending of smutty and sensitive content (as well as the fact that Feldstein is the sister of Superbad star Jonah Hill, and bears a resemblance to him at that age). But to call Booksmart a female Superbad would be to miss the larger, more significant strengths and pleasures of the movie. This is a film about woke, tolerant, self-possessed young people who must learn that without humility, empathy, and life experience, those are just empty words.

Twitter Capsule:
Two high-achieving pals try to cram years of missed experience into their last night of high school in Wilde's astute, hilarious raunchy teen comedy for the next generation; upends the false notion that young millennials are too PC to have any fun.
Directed by Olivia Wilde
Produced by Megan Ellison, Jessica Elbaum, Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, and Katie Silberman

Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman

With: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Noah Galvin, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga, Stephanie Styles, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, and Mike O’Brien

Cinematography: Jason McCormick
Editing: Jamie Gross
Music: Dan Nakamura

Runtime: 102 min
Release Date: 24 May 2019
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1