I’m just going to say what everyone is already thinking (and what some of us have already said): Booksmart is the best movie of the year. Sure, it’s only the end of May. We still have a whole other half of the year left to go! Am I crazy? Probably (yes). But my insanity is not a cloud over my judgement. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a tenderly assorted, rip-roaringly funny love letter to the tradition of best friendship and high school debauchery.
The premise is a tale as old as time: two soulmates, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have spent their entire high school careers doing whatever they could to ensure they would get the best grades and get into the best colleges, including not having a social life. To their horror, they realize that not only did their classmates get into the same/equal level Ivy League schools they did, but they did so while having flourishing social lives. The solution? Rewrite their high school story the night before graduation by attending the biggest party of the year, and break as many rules as they can along the way.
Booksmart is a wonderful addition to the canon of teen film, following in the footsteps of recent entries, such as The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird, which helped thrust the genre into something of a renaissance. What makes these films feel so revolutionary is their depiction of their characters. The hallmarks of classic John Hughes movies (nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, evil bullies, heroic protagonists) aren’t really existent here. Lady Bird, Nadine and now Molly and Amy are much more complex and their actresses are given a multitude of colors to paint with. Though this is Molly and Amy’s story, we see their respective flaws that make them feel human rather than archetypes. Booksmart‘s climatic showdown between its titular two bffs is hard to watch, but an integral part of what makes that relationship feel as lived in as it does. Both Dever and Feldstein have been wonderful in other projects, but this is the first time both actresses get to dive head first into leading roles. To say they nail it is a complete understatement.
But the true magic of Booksmart is Wilde’s masterfully subtle direction, which not only gives each actor and their characters space to breathe to leave an indelible impression, but signal the emergence of an exciting new talent; her background as an actress is a huge asset. The supporting characters, everyone from Triple A, Nick and even the ridiculously iconic Gigi (Billie Lourd, exceptional) feel like someone you saw roaming the halls between class periods. But Wilde gives them each their own chance to peel back the curtain. In a way, the audience goes on a similar journey as both Molly and Amy where we learn the timeless lesson that first impressions aren’t always correct.
I could go on about the the amount of pure love that emanates from each frame and line reading, but to do so feels arbitrary. Booksmart is the film I wished I had in high school, one that could have saved my life at a time where I felt lost with no way out. Sitting in the theater and watching each episode in Amy and Molly’s wild night play out filled me with so much joy, I had to see it a second time the next night. It’s a shame that so much expectation has been heaped upon the film’s shoulders, and that so much of the conversation has been about its inability to match Superbad‘s (the film this one has been frequently compared to) success. To be fair, it was probably never going to be the next Superbad in the way the industry thought it might be. And it doesn’t need to be either. Not only is it a better film, but I think of how lucky kids, both present and future, are to grow up in a world with a film like Booksmart, which ultimately means more than any level of financial success.