Directed By Olivia Wilde
Starring – Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd
The Plot – On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends (Feldstein and Dever) realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
Rated R for strong sexual content and adult language throughout, drug use and drinking – all involving teens
– A Wilde ride. No offense to the wonderfully gifted Olivia, but I feel like she should give up acting and focus more on directing, because her debut effort behind the lens is among the greatest that I’ve ever seen in that regard. Wilde’s combination of energy, anxiety, and especially chaos is something that speaks volumes to the teenage spirit, as well as the infectious indulgence that the audience easily immerses themselves in from start to finish, and commands the biggest laugh from the audience based on where she places the camera at the right particular time. The editing is also sharp as a tack, preserving an absorbing quality in consistency that keeps the pacing stimulating through 100 minutes that seriously felt like half of it. To say that I had a blast with this film is an understatement, as it may very well be my favorite comedy of the past four years for the way it takes an ages old structure like the final party of high school, and boils it down to a story about non-romantic love between two best friends, and it’s a film that rewards by taking the very chances that its subgenre predecessors simply never capitalized on.
– Character’s first mentality. Aside from the exceptional work of its two leading ladies, which I’ll get to in a second, the film crafts and remains committed to its wide range of supporting cast, some of which play bigger roles in their dynamics with Feldstein and Dever, but all of which enhance the landing power of average material elevated by boisterous nature of their complex personalities. Usually when a film drifts away from its important leads, it starts to take away from the consistency in pacing, but Feldstein and Dever are able to confidently progress off-screen, while the focus of the film thrives because of the time and attention dedicated to preserving the world around them. There isn’t a single weak link among the very eclectically vibrant talents used to bounce off of the film’s main character’s, and it made me welcome the transitioning of multi-tiered storytelling because there wasn’t a single aspect that I didn’t want to re-visit as the film went on.
– One for the ladies. Wilde is a director who not only knows how to mold females into typically male stereotyped roles, but she also knows how to document a bond so strong that it often feels like these two character’s run on the same wavelength. A lot of that is in part thanks to the impeccable chemistry between Feldstein and Dever, which many teenage girls will be emulating for years to come. In Feldstein, it’s her cartoonish expressions and the passion displayed in saying lines that would otherwise boil a lesser comedic talent. Dever likewise balances a nuance of nerves towards a sexual awakening, that makes her tender when clashing with the unabashed honesty of Feldstein’s prying words, leading to several long-winded laughs thanks to their precision with the material. In addition to them, Lourd trumps anything that she has done on “American Horror Story” to this point, fleshing out a re-appearing goth character for a new generation. There’s a point in the film when her appearances feel almost angelic in the way they steer the two ladies through each party of debauchery, and Billie’s dry demeanor in getting across some rather stern details makes you almost have to rewind to make sure you heard her correctly.
– Music incorporation. Like more comedies are doing these days, “Booksmart” uses its soundtrack of mostly modern rap recordings as a gimmick, but does so in a way that feels representing of the psychology of the character’s in a particular situation. For instance, when the ladies require a slow motion montage to look cool, the accompanying of free-flowing hip hop casts them in a light that bears sarcasm, considering these two don’t have a rebellious bone in the bodies. When there’s a deeply moving dramatic sequence, like one that takes place under water, the composer slows everything down, and rides the waves of heart-breaking atmosphere to bring forth a feeling that we identify with and sink our teeth into, for the way it plays on our investment and well-being of the character’s. The collective compilation, while filled with tunes that are anything but my style, do a superb job of emulating the kind of attitude that Wilde requires throughout a night of mayhem, and prove that music can be necessary in garnering a much more valuable presence than just background noise.
– Dreamy cinematography. I don’t get to compliment a raunchy comedy often for its lens presentation, but Wilde, as well as cinematographer Jason McCormack, capture our attention with some truly beautiful sequences and movements of the camera that make this the exception to the rule. For visual clarity, Wilde shoots all scenes with Feldstein and Dever together tightly, and scenes apart with a wide angle lens. This is to better convey the connection and closeness that the two ladies share. There’s also two impressively shot long take sequences, one in particular involving a back-and-forth shouting match between the two leads, that is not only impressive for how much they had to memorize, but also in the way that the bouncing camera work takes just long enough to study the words playing off of one another before making its round trip back to the next person forced to listen. It’s clear that Wilde was going for so much more than conventional compositions and mundane framing, and her debut in the director’s chair instills a sense of ambition to the comedy genre that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.
– Another favor to the material is the coveted R-rating, which actually serves a dutiful purpose here. For this film to be given anything less than this rating would do a huge disservice to the teenage speech patterns that we expect. This also allows women the rare chance at being as open in their discussion’s as the men frequently are granted, but it never feels like an obvious gimmick such as it did in last year’s “Blockers”. Here, the material never lowers itself below the impressive intelligence of the two ladies grade point average, and is instead inflicted with patience until the moment in the scene of mayhem practically begs for it. Likewise, the sexual material is a bit testing of younger audiences, but shot tastefully enough, with more left to the imagination of the audience where to fill in the blanks. Part of me still believes this has to do with Hollywood’s uneasiness of seeing a teenage girl dabble in her sexuality, but at the end of the day, it is a part of the daily teenage routine that would otherwise be a huge disservice in overlooking if this film was anything but R-rated.
– Positive message. I pay great respects to the movie for playing against character stereotypes, and instilling a sense of originality in the lesson learned by our protagonists to not judge or assume about anyone else, as well as ourselves. I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything because the basis of this theme was clearly evident in the trailer, and the screenplay by four different female writers does a remarkable job of planting its feet firmly in the meat of the meaning, and illustrating a school that feels very much as progressive as the world outside it has taken to everything from cultural traditions, to sexual orientation. If I could pick one high school to go to from a movie, the one depicted in “Booksmart” might be my pick, if only for the dimensions given to what feels like real people for a change, that often are distributed into convenient clique groups that are often reduced to a single identifying trait.
– Every scene has meaning. This is a film that rewards the dedication of its audience, turning scenes that otherwise feel like miniscule throwaway’s in a conventional narrative, and planting the seeds of storytelling early to watch them bloom later on. There’s two examples of this happening during the film, and what’s important is that each example is given an ample amount of time to allow audiences to forget about the small details, before they incorporate them back in at the most naturally opportune time. It’s the culmination of a third act, which combines enough dramatic pulse, meaningful stakes, and especially storytelling progression to end the film on a high note of creativity.
– Familiarity. I mentioned this earlier when I said that the popular tropes of the genre are clearly evident, especially in 2007’s “Superbad”, which the film borrows a bit too heavily from to be coincidental. Aside from the incredible coincidence that Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s real life sister, both films share that Hail Mary party at the end of the year, with each character pining over a love interest, and taking a long and troubling road before finally making it to the party. “Booksmart” never runs from the things it mimics so unabashedly, but in terms of breaking new ground from a narrative standpoint, the film’s biggest hurdle will be in trying to escape the notes of comparison from moviegoing audiences, who feel like they’ve seen it all before, so why is it necessary to see again?
– Plot conveniences. There are quite a few of them. In fact, one deep moment of thinking through scenarios and solutions would bring forth the idea that all of the madness that these two girls go through could be easily resolved if they used even half of the intellect they maintain in being at the top of their class rankings. There’s also certain tidbits dropped especially late in the movie that are there out of convenience for the very next scene being able to proceed. Bits of exposition like these drive me crazy for the laziness they battle against from within, and stand as the only noticeable flaw that I have from a collection of writers that otherwise knew how to progress a story seamlessly.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+