Netflix UK film review: Booksmart
Ivan Radford | On 29, Dec 2019
Director: Olivia Wilde
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever
Watch Booksmart online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Olivia Wilde bursts onto the directorial scene with Booksmart, a gloriously entertaining, gorgeously warm-hearted high school movie that stands among the funniest films of 2019.
It follows Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two high-achieving pupils who are readying themselves for bright futures. Molly is headed to Yale, while Amy is going overseas to help a period poverty charity make tampons, but they share a commitment to working hard and taking academia seriously. On the eve of graduation, though, Molly realises that all the rowdy, partying teens have also got into Ivy League schools, which makes her question their whole approach to their youth – and, with one night left, spurs her to try and get to the biggest party of the year and make up for lost time.
In other words, it’s your typical high school movie set-up, building up to one last celebration for characters on the cusp of bidding farewell to adolescence. Words like “fresh approach” and “reinvention” have been used to describe this entry into the teen-com genre, but Booksmart doesn’t change the formula one bit; the difference is that the movie actually has rounded female characters in it, and that women are telling the story, bringing a welcome change in tide to a genre so long dominated by frat boys and male directors.
The script, by Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern and Katie Silberman, is anchored firmly in Molly and Amy’s friendship. They share an empowering, positive bond, encouraging body confidence and self-esteem while supporting each other’s goals. But, when tensions snap, they also don’t hold back from criticism their BFF’s worst tendencies, with Molly, in particular, the controlling, dominant one in their dynamic – these are characters not only written by people who know them inside out, but also characters who know each other inside out.
Feldstein and Dever are fantastic to watch. Beanie confidently graduates from sidekick in Lady Bird to leading lady. Her comic timing is impeccable, whether she’s attempting to flirt with her crush or reacting silently to those around her. Dever, meanwhile, brings a lived-in chemistry to their relationship, with a generous turn that nonetheless gets its fair share of laughs. Jessica Williams provides fleshed-out support as their cool teacher, Miss Fine, while Jason Sudeikis quietly steals scenes as their depressed school principal. Skyler Gisondo is laugh-out-loud funny as Jared, the school rich kid who wants friends, and Billie Lourd turns it up to 11 as his hyper, substance-fuelled friend, Gigi.
Together, the ensemble revels in the one-liners and escalating chaos, throwing around graphic and lewd dialogue with glee. If things can sometimes go too far in the grossout stakes, though, what sticks with you is the movie’s overwhelming sense of optimism, as Wilde taps into the awareness and acceptance that define Generation Z, compared to the generation that gave us American Pie; it’s a film that’s steeped in sex and sexual awareness but primarily celebrates the ability of everyone to forge their own path, regardless of their gender and whether they’ve done it by the books or not.
Throw in a thrillingly unexpected moment involving Barbie dolls and it’s a pleasure to see Wilde come into her own as a director. She’s crafted something hilarious, affectionate and quietly bold that, on the heels of Lady Bird and Blockers, leaves the high school genre with a promising future of its own. Like your own teenage days, it flies by – but, unlike your own teenage days, you’ll want to relive it again and again.
Booksmart is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.