BooksmartReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/06/19 09:28:04
"Booksmart" is a loud enough from the start to get those in the audience old enough to be its characters' parents cranky, but that is perhaps the way it should be, even with kids who don't initially seem the type. It earns that noise, though, growing into a tremendously funny movie that manages the neat trick of getting friendlier and bigger-hearted even as it gets sharper (and stranger) as it goes. Even us uncool old people should be having a ball by the end.The girls who don't seem the type are Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), the inseparable top two students in the class of 2019, which graduates tomorrow. They've got big plans for the future and have been heads-down pursuing them, so when Molly discovers that some of the other kids who weren't so single-minded also got into good schools. That revelation has her determined that the pair make it to their classmate Nick's big end-of-year party, even if they have no idea where it is and have been so asocial that nobody is inclined to answer their texts.
Though high school cliques are obviously a real thing and a lot of kids that age can get hyper-focused and specialized, movies have been overdoing it for so long that it's been a frequent target of parody for twenty-odd years, and Booksmart creaks a bit as it establishes a large ensemble of broadly-written characters that all seem to be about an inch deep. That's part of why it's tremendously satisfying to have the writers flip the script and crush Molly's snobbery early; it not only sets the pair on a path to ridiculous misadventures without having to have things tied too closely to a goal, but makes the audience look a bit closer at everyone in the movie even while they're being very silly. You know from the start that this isn't all anybody is.
Still, everyone involved is big and weird and funny, and the situations that Amy and Molly keep falling into are hilarious. Between the well-meaning but kind of clueless adults and the other kids who are pretty far down their own rabbit holes, and the fact that the girls are not actually so socially stupid as to come off as fools, folks are able to get into a lot of trouble without things getting mean for most of the movie. The jokes come at a good clip and are often cheerfully vulgar, and director Olivia Wilde is good at making sure they get just enough time to breathe without being trampled by the next one, or that the set-up isn't strung out to long for too small a punchline, even when the gag is how closely Amy and Molly are coming to disaster. The comic timing is strong whether it be for dialogue, slapstick, or anything in between.
Wilde is also impressively ambitious for someone directing her first feature, especially considering how often independent comedies like this are often content to just get something on-screen and making simplicity a virtue (because you won't bust your budget or jeopardize sales because a fast-moving widescreen image will be a mess streaming onto a phone or on an airplane screen). Wilde fills every corner, lets the camera move, drops in an animated sequence and really gets the audience into the party once Molly and Amy get there, never seeming to cheat by making anything too private or too crowded for the camera to move around, and she trusts the audience to pay enough attention to let a lot play out just by seeing it. She uses sound well too, the full spectrum from when silence makes things more uncomfortable to really loud music amplifying someone's intensity without them having to play to the balcony.
Meanwhile, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are diving right in and being generally terrific. They're both able to do the sort of smart-kid thing where the moment can tip them from mannered wit to enthusiastic outbursts as need be, and able to make the distance in how headstrong the girls are feel small until it's time to really look at what separates them, with neither of them ever missing a step unless it makes sense for the character to stumble. Both they and Wilde handle the well-earned turns toward drama and sentimentality toward the end well, and they're surrounded by a pretty great ensemble, one where the "famous friend" adult ringers have the good sense to not actually try and actually steal any scenes (which would be pointless, because Billie Lourd would steal them right back as the weirdest member of a crazy graduating class).The movie finishes up right where it was always going to - one of the smarter things that the movie does is to have a clear understanding of just how transformative this one night should be - but better than the characters or the audience probably thought. "Booksmart" is fast, full of youthful energy, and very funny, one heck of a way to start a summer vacation.
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