Funny, smart, and full of sass, Booksmart may not be the brilliant film buzz has indicated but it comes damn close, offering up a female-oriented teen comedy that proves the girls can be just as bad (and idiotic) as the boys.
Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut in stunning fashion, immediately showing she has the chops for a successful non-acting career. Booksmart rarely wastes a minute—let alone a moment—it’s tight, well edited, and full of energy. Boasting a strong, complementary soundtrack, it’s hard not to groove along as her stars—Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (trivia: most don’t realize Feldstein is the younger sister of Jonah Hill. Booksmart is fairly or unfairly being called “the female version of Superbad,” one of Hill’s first big movies)—hunt for the high school graduation party of all high school graduation parties.
Written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman, Booksmart presents two relatable lead characters that serve as perfect protagonists for such a story. Both are grounded yet exaggerated, a good description of the movie itself; Wilde isn’t interested in making the indie comedy that so often seems to be the path of least resistance for actors-turned-director, typically forgettable fare more interested in directorial experimentation than delivering an enjoyable experience to its audience.
Booksmart pulses with life and even at its weakest moments is at least interesting. The movie is silly but stops just short of being extreme—a slightly frustrating restraint that often works in the story’s favor but occasionally feels limiting, as if the filmmakers are unwilling to go for the truly big laughs out of fear they’ll turn the audience off.
Booksmart doesn’t always work—a drug-fueled trip that involves the girls turning into stop-motion Barbie-esque dolls isn’t very funny and certainly unnecessary, and a few stretches needed a couple more rounds at the screenplay level to ratchet up the humor—but it works most of the time, delivering plenty of well-played jokes and undeniable heart. That combo, elevated by Dever, Feldstein, and a terrific supporting cast, make Booksmart one of the can’t-miss experiences of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.