Booksmart has had some phenomenal reviews. Empire Magazine gave the movie five stars putting it up there with other films they have given the maximum rating to like The Hurt Locker, LA Confidential, The Shawshank Redemption and Amadeus. Yep, Empire have effectively said that this film is as good as Amadeus.
The particularly interesting thing is that this sort of film doesn’t normally get five star reviews. It is a bawdy, high school party movie akin to Easy A and Superbad and while Empire sang the praises of both of those movies, they still only gave them a rating of four, one pentagram short of perfection.
Clearly this brings a certain level of expectation and I guess what I thought I was going to see was a story of two kids bringing the laughs as they navigated a fairly realistic depiction of teen life, something like The Perks of Being a Wallflower but with more funny one liners. I have to admit then to being surprised and maybe a little underwhelmed to find myself watching an exaggerated and cliched depiction of high school grads with more affectations than all the cast of Clueless and Meangirls put together. Sure, I was taken with the characterisations and performances of the central duo Amy and Molly but most of the kids in the film were not real people with real lives; they were movie people with Hollywood lives.
Stick with me though because about half an hour in I realised that this film is indeed brilliant and deserves all of the accolades and praise. The fact that it initially plays the genre game is part of why it works so well because it gives you what lots of similar films give and then weaves other stuff in to put it top of its class.
There are many moments in this movie that look familiar but then don’t play out as you’d expect. This is perhaps most obvious in a fumbled bathroom make out scene that is sweeter than you’d think then goes off in a different, perhaps more typical, direction only to swerve somewhere else later. (It should also be noted that this tryst is between two young women which even five years ago would have been a thing but now just isn’t.) There are also a couple of fantasy sequences that are simply superb and do not go where you think at any point.
Another aspect of Booksmart that you don’t commonly see is how it seamlessly allows you to get to know most of the subsidiary characters as real people not stereotypes. By the end there are no jocks or bitches, hippy chicks or shallow rich kids in the film, there is just a group of really likeable young adults all with their own challenges and stories to tell.
The real bonus here though is the magnificent central relationship between the wonderful female leads. Female friendship on screen is rare enough, especially in this type of film, but actually a friendship this genuine, of any gender make up, is particularly special. The way Amy and Molly play off one another, support one another, root for one another, depend on one another, trust one another and love one another is simply beautiful and it is impossible not to get drawn in to it. Because of this Booksmart is a genuinely touching piece of cinema and no matter how exaggerated things get around them this heartwarming connection stays at the heart of the film. Put simply, as a viewer you care about deeply these girls so you care deeply about the film. In many respects it might be a 2019 version of Animal House but this movie will warm you emotionally like it’s the world’s best romcom. It’s like Thelma & Louise only instead of driving across America, holding up convenience stores and pitching themselves into the Grand Canyon, they just go to a party.
Credit has to go then to Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein who play Amy and Molly. I was introduced to the brilliance of Kaitlyn Dever at precisely the same time that I was introduced to the brilliance of Brie Larson while watching the film Short Term 12 six years ago. I first saw the superb Beanie Feldstein sixteen months ago opposite Saoirse Ronan in Ladybird. Both young women truly excel here though and Larson and Ronan style careers may well follow for them as they did for their previous co-stars.
The success of Booksmart is equally down to female director Olivia Wilde and her all female writing team. This is a spectacular debut from Wilde who not only knows character but shows a confident command of every aspect of the film maker’s paintbox. The shot composition in the film is yet another thing that earns it that extra star. If Dever and Feldstein are the new Larson and Ronan then Olivia Wilde might be the new Greta Gerwig.
Everyone should see Booksmart and they should see it with their closest high school friend because it is a celebration of the particular type of relationships you form in your teens to get you through. If school is a long way in your past it doesn’t matter, message that person on Facebook right now and drag them out because you shared something special back then and you should share this film now.
See it either way. It really is as good as they say it is.