The first trick to writing teenagers is to write them realistically. This is the biggest strength of Booksmart: It feels “real.” It is set in high-school, one which allows seeming riots in the hallways on the final day of the year and there are many an exaggerated character but Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut manages to avoid the usual stereotypes and cliches, even though the film is perhaps not as original as it first seems.
The greatest strength is the two main characters, Amy and Molly, played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein respectively. They have a natural chemistry which makes you want to watch their interactions. It is written so well that it feels like the two have had a friendship which has lasted a lifetime and because of this, you are rooting for them no matter what obstacles they are forced to face.
As with any sort of “drunken teenage night” movie, those obstacles get weirder and weirder and ramp up in absurdity as the plot progresses. The attempt of the two girls to go against their usual grain and attend a party is a simple aim but is naturally obstructed by many an exaggerated twist. These don’t ever seem too unusual or out-there though and because of this, you happily go along for the ride. It also helps that each reaction of the pair works well, from being stuck at a lame party on a boat through to accidentally taking drugs resulting in a very original hallucination.
Booksmart is funny. The writing is quick and sharp, with the dialogue sounding natural but also full of great one-liners. The situations are bizarre but the characters work through it and with each moment you enjoy watching them experience these weird things even more. There is also great humour in the quieter moments too, like a revelation about a stuffed panda or how the girls compliment each other on their “great dress-sense.”
It isn’t a straight comedy though and there are some great, tender and heart-felt moments. This is a film which tries to represent what teenagers have to experience today and this can be something simple like acceptance, belonging or trying to work out what your next move is. This is delivered equally as effectively.
To that end however, Booksmart never truly escapes the fact that it is a Superbad clone. Nothing here wasn’t already covered in some way in that movie and you can’t help but connect the dots. It also means that this film is fairly predictable, although it manages to keep you entertained throughout.
Overall, Booksmart is a clever, realistic and very funny look at the absurdity of trying to “fit in.” It has great characters, bizarre situations but also tender moments which bring real heart to the film. If you’ve seen Superbad, you’ve seen this movie but that doesn’t take away from how entertaining it is.
Rating – 4
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