By Bradley Lane
Olivia Wilde has been a working actress in Hollywood for nearly the past two decades; however, in Booksmart she takes on the directorial role, behind the camera. This type of career move is becoming more and more common nowadays thanks to the marketability of movie stars as directors. With most films, they have to rely on the film’s stars to market the movie; however, with an already established star in the director’s chair, it becomes a safe bet for a studio to greenlight production. Unfortunately, the quality of these films ranges from masterful to downright awful. For every undiscovered talent, a la Sophia Coppola, there is an actor that did not fully understand the responsibilities of a director; see The Brave directed by Johnny Depp. However, this is certainly not the case for Wilde as Booksmart is hilarious from front to back, full of standout performances, and carries real emotional weight when needed.
Amy and Molly are straight A students who prioritized hard work and studying over the crazy partying in which their classmates participated. This rejection of partying and fun was all in service to accomplish their goals of getting into prestigious colleges. However, when Molly learns that nearly all her partying peers also got accepted into those schools with similar grades, she and Amy have a sort of identity crisis. So, in order to try and correct for their four years of all work and no play, they set out on a quest to prove to their classmates and themselves that they are fun. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, the night does not go exactly according to plan, and the film follows Molly and Amy as they hopelessly try and get to the right party, with hilarious hijinks along the way.
The first thing that sticks out about Booksmart is just how likable and fun the two leads are together. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein have immense chemistry together, and it’s a joy to watch them anytime they share the screen. Their comedic timing is impeccable, and the banter between one another is more than worth the price of admission.
Additionally, Booksmart avoids one of the biggest problems that plagues modern comedy today by never letting the audience forget that they are watching a film and not a sitcom. A style pioneered by prolific producer Judd Apatow, in order to give the comedians starting in blockbuster comedies room to work and improvise, the shot structure of most modern comedies are static, boring and usually poorly lit. Thankfully, Olivia Wilde has a keen eye for interesting shot structure and makes thoughtful creative choices that dramatically add to the effectiveness of Booksmart’s themes of friendship, honesty and identity.
Occasionally, Booksmart can seem to drown in its influences, borrowing the structure of its story and even plot points from the 2007 comedy smash, Superbad, imitating Richard Linklater’s slow motion realizations from 1993’s Dazed and Confused and owes its innocent and fun-loving tone to John Hughes classics of the 80s like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. This is not to say borrowing from these films is a complete negative by any stretch of the imagination; the film is all the better for it, but these influences can make Booksmart feel a little derivative when they are presented so front and center.
Bookmsart was a breath of fresh air last year and deserves to be revisited over and over again. Booksmart is available to stream on Hulu. – 4/5 stars