We’ve seen Booksmart before. We haven’t seen a female fronted version of highschoolers trying to have one night of fun before graduation like this though. So while it’s great to see the female version of this film, the deja vu of it all doesn’t necessarily make it a winner.
On the eve of their high school graduation, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are ready to shed their good student images and live a little. It’s obvious they didn’t have a bunch of close friends throughout their four years because they don’t know where the biggest party in town is, but who needs close friends when you have a sisterhood like theirs? Their relationship is beautiful and tight-knit. So together they’ll figure out a way to get to the party, and much of the movie centers around them in transit and on the hunt for it.
They start out at a boat party for Jared (Skyler Gisondo), a lonely rich kid who expects that he can buy friends like his parents bought his affection. His one friend, Gigi (Billie Lourd), serves as a magical marker who pops up at each stop of Amy and Molly’s adventure. The boat is made for dinner cruises, and with four people on it outside of the crew, it makes for a pretty lame party and a moment for viewers to scratch their head. They eventually make there way to the party of the year with a couple more stops and a drug induced trip along the way.
While Booksmart’s ancillary characters feel fully realized, and there’s really not anyone you won’t like in this film, the emotional connection and investment is missing upfront. The gags and jokes within the film are hit and miss at times and the soundtrack serves as a hard cut between each transition. One could say the film builds its characters over time, but it’s hard to enjoy the early part of the ride where the girls get into situations that feel grounded more in fantasy than reality. It’s not until Amy and Molly get to the big party that the film takes a tonal shift that is true to life.
Feldstein’s Molly is the livewire with control issues in the duo. Dever’s Amy is the straight woman of the two (humor-wise I should say), but her sensibility makes her journey noteworthy. She’s been an out lesbian since the tenth grade, but hasn’t pursued a romantic relationship. She hopes that will change over the course of the night. It’s her pursuit and experimenting that gives an authentic look at the universal issues that teenagers deal with in finding love. At the end of the day, during that time in our lives, we’re just trying to discover ourselves while deciding whether to follow the crowd or step out on our own.
This film certainly has an audience, but it’s going to be a limited one. You either enjoy over the top sequences and saturated F bombs in a movie or you don’t. Director Olivia Wilde’s feature debut proves that she can tell a story and this won’t be the last we hear from her. However, when you paint a world where teens act like adults and adults act like teens, the universal lessons become harder to receive. Booksmart definitely has laugh out loud and heartfelt moments, but if this is life for Generation Z teens, it’s a strange Utopia.