I finally got the chance to see Booksmart a few days ago and I’m glad I did because it is now my favorite movie of the year so far. It is the latest high school coming of age movie, this time focusing on two young women rather than the usual young men as they
The comparison I’ve seen made a lot is between Booksmart and Superbad. It is in some ways apt, as they both deal in large part with similar themes. Both follow two life-long friends on an attempt to get to a party at the tail end of their time in high school. While the macro view might make the two movies seem very similar, they are very different on the micro level. They certainly don’t feel the same. I would also argue that Booksmart is much more ambitious in its plotting and its filmmaking than Superbad ever even thought of being.
The move rests on the charisma and chemistry between the stars, Beanie Feldstein as the driven Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as the more withdrawn Amy. They are perfect. The rest of the cast is solid as well, with excellent pinch hitting performances from Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte and Jessica Williams and some great stuff from other students, especially Skyler Gisondo and Billie Lourd.
Booksmart does feature a lot of tropes familiar to this sort of movie, but it kind of back burners them to the more personal drama between the two friends. Both friends have partners that they would like to hook up with, but that is clear secondary desire to their other goals. A lot of the movie is more about the personal journeys of Molly and Amy.
Booksmart is also a remarkably empathetic movie. While characters are shown being cruel, it is generally out of the thoughtlessness and not malice. It is movie that emphasizes consideration of other people’s situation. This is true of nearly every character in the movie. Molly starts the movie as more than a little judgmental, and the film makes it clear that this is out of fear. She is preemptively rejecting people before they reject her. Which causes them to reject her. The movie doesn’t make a villain out of anybody. The kids who are mean to Molly are only doing so because she is almost deliberately abrasive. That doesn’t make them right, but it adds context. Even the two teachers that play a role are more than just teachers. The supportive English teacher is shown to make some bad decisions and the struggling principal is really struggling.
It also does a great job of letting the other characters have their stories going on that only briefly intersect with Molly and Amy. The big party they are trying to get to is not the only party going on. It is a big school and not everyone wants that party experience. The theater kids are having their own murder mystery party, with very well developed roles for each guest. The rich kids are having a party on their parent’s yacht. The roles are fluid, people move from one party to another as the night goes on.
The film is also visually inventive. There are a handful of standout scenes. One is kind of a standard drug trip the ends up with the characters imagining themselves as Barbie dolls. Another is a pool scene, where one of the protagonists swims underwater in the midst of a bunch of rambunctious teens.
Booksmart is incredibly smart, empathetic and interesting. It is a movie that creates comedy through its characters, rather than have characters that exist as a vehicle for its comedy, making it much more real and believable. It is equal parts profane and thoughtful. Booksmart is just really, really good.