Director: Olivia Wilde
Writer: Emily Halpen, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jason Sudeikis
Genre: Comedy / drama
On the eve of their high school graduation best friends and academic over achievers Amy (Dever) and Molly (Fieldstein) realise that she should have worked less and played harder. Determined not to miss out, they try to cram four years of fun into one night.
The teen-based coming of age genre will always produce films that seem to just tread the same, familiar themes and clichés with various approaches that then produce various degrees of success. Though Booksmart is certainly not devoid of genre clichés, it certainly contains enough fresh and interesting takes on a very familiar concept to emerge as a thoroughly enjoyable genre piece that is both genuinely funny and emotionally engaging.
Adopting the classic ‘one crazy night’ narrative, Booksmart gives us two characters that are certainly far more than just clichéd teens, and thanks to the intelligent writing and great performances, we are able to relate to them and empathise with them. Most of us will not be able to empathise with their exact situation (for a start, a lot of us will be a different gender), but many of their fundamental aims and desires are universal, and therefore we can. Booksmart may certainly be marketed as a comedy, but it has far more to it than that, and certainly has plenty of moments of genuine emotion that examine the fundamentals of the human condition and friendship.
Despite an exhaustive list of writers, the script is often extremely sharp and observational and manages to produce some hilarious one-liners, but this film is more than just a comedy and there is also poignant observation within the dialogue that we can all relate to. Meanwhile the cast are also great; Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein share great on-screen chemistry as Amy and Molly, and we do genuinely believe in their deep friendship and the conversations that they have that are sometimes very much banter-based, but also at times very raw, confessional and completely random – just like the conversations between two very close friends tend to be. The supporting cast (both young and old) all also deliver great performances, and all get their own individual moments to shine and deliver some great, memorable lines. Likewise, in her first film in the director’s chair Olivia Wilde injects a refreshing amount of energy into the film.
As stated earlier, Booksmart is certainly not devoid of genre clichés: many of the supporting characters (as funny as they may be) do conveniently click certain caricatures and their use at the sheer convenience of the narrative is a little too obvious and jarring. There are also certain narrative clichés such as all characters having seemingly endless wealth and owning huge mansions, and there is of course also the inevitable moment when the two main characters fallout (which does feel a little contrived), and there are also certain moments in the final third which are used for (admittedly very effective) dramatic effect, but are obviously there for just that reason and feel a little unbelievable. However, despite having the usual flaws that often comes with the genre, there is no denying that Booksmart has more than enough substance and genuine humour to not only be one of the funniest films of 2019, but one of the most emotionally uplifting.
Despite being part of a very tried and tested genre, thanks to some very sharp writing and great performances, Booksmart emerges above (most) of the usual genre clichés to be a film of genuine humour and emotion.