Booksmart review: a clever teen-com that’s top of its class

Olivia Wilde’s debut is a joyful, hilarious coming-of-ager that’s way smarter and sweeter than it looks

All work and no play makes Amy and Molly dull girls in this completely heartwarming coming of age comedy, which marks the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde. The two, played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, are high-school girls who’ve kept their heads down, studied hard and got places at great colleges, only to discover that half of the ‘party kids’ at their school have managed to bag top places, too. Convinced they’ve played their final year all wrong, the girls resolve to have one amazing night before graduation at the hottest party in town.

Ok, so far so Superbad, but Booksmart really is a different beast, with its ‘nerds’ not nerds at all but girls who have to learn to see beyond the surface of school mates, and life experiences, they’d all but written off. Structured like a zany ‘one crazy night’ movie as the girls traverse gatherings – a lavish exclusive boat party, a suped-up murder mystery night, and eventually the bash they’re aiming for – all the teen comedy beats are hit: drink, drugs, puke, first love and heartbreak. Yet Booksmart never feels less than fresh, diverse and current.

For a directorial debut – and particularly a comedy – Booksmart is stunning and innovative, from an early amazing slow-mo shot of a water balloon exploding in Molly’s face, to the hilarious, bizarre animated sequence where the girls high on drugs are transformed into Barbie dolls, it’s a film packed with invention and flair. It’s almost easy to miss these visual flourishes, however, because you’ll be laughing so hard – this is easily the funniest film of the year so far.

The performances are pitch perfect, with Dever and Feldstein charismatic and authentic as best friends who love each other absolutely, while the supporting cast shines, too. Santa Clarita Diet’s Skyler Gisondo is funny and sympathetic as the misguided and inadvertently sleazy Jared, while Billie Lourd’s bizarre, ethereal Gigi, who looks like she’s wandered straight out of Fyrefest, is hilarious but ultimately treated with empathy.

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Far from damning ‘Generation Z’, this is a positive and hopeful portrait of young people, a super contemporary take on familiar tropes, which is less ‘revenge of the nerds’ and more a call for acceptance of all kinds of person when geek culture has become the mainstream and not being cool is suddenly cool again.

Booksmart would make a perfect double bill with Eighth Grade, which acutely showcased the struggles of a young teenage girl in the social media era. While lighter and less devastating than Eighth Grade, Booksmart is an uplifting picture of female friendship, which ultimately says that the kids are going to be alright. In fact, it would form the perfect triple bill with Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion – the movie this is most reminiscent of both structurally and tonally. And like Kayla, and Romy and Michele, it’s just such a pleasure to hang out with Molly and Amy throughout the 102-minute runtime.

You don’t have to be a modern high-schooler to remember the intense pain and euphoria of being that age and Booksmart translates this raw infectious joy and sorrow perfectly, with closing beats that flip from unbearably sad to funny and gorgeous in a heartbeat. Even the closing credits are spot on.

Booksmart is an incredibly confident debut imbued with heart and humour from the off and if the Academy weren’t so scared of genre film we’d be championing this for attention come awards season – it’s a far more universal film than Ladybird and for our money a better one – but sadly since the more serious Eighth Grade got completely overlooked, we don’t fancy its chances.

Still, Booksmart is bound to win audience acclaim. For a teen comedy, Booksmart is totally top of its class, but it’s more than that – this is a straight A-grade movie that’s set to be one of the highlights of the whole year.

Booksmart is in UK cinemas now.

Rating:

5 out of 5