‘Booksmart’ Film Review: A Goddamn Funny and Revolutionary Female-Fronted Comedy from Olivia Wilde

Actors Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein on the set of Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, BOOKSMART, an Annapurna Pictures release. (Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures)

In the world of high school comedies, we’ve seen it all: the athletes and jocks, bad boys, princesses, mean girls, drama kids, detention club-goers and boy meets girl-next-door. But how does one stand out among the rest and still maintain complete originality? How does one create something so smart, inclusive, modern, and still incredibly hilarious?

For first-time feature film director Olivia Wilde, Booksmart had me laughing from start to finish. And it does oh so well.

Advertised as the “female Superbad,” Booksmart is one hell of a perfect coming-of-age comedy — maybe the best I’ve seen, and maybe one I never knew that I needed.

The film follows best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they are on the brink of their high school graduation. And, from what we can tell, the two have been overachieving goody two-shoes their entire high school careers. For one night, they set out to attend the party of all parties for a coming-of-age moment that sounds all too familiar, but done oh so well.

The friendship that Amy and Molly share feels so easy and familiar. From the moment we meet them, the two are incredibly likable and share a kind of intimacy that only two best friends can share. Dever and Feldstein are both incredibly talented and their natural chemistry pairs well onscreen that their appeal is palpable.

While other comedies have centered around boys getting the girl or losing their virginity (think: Superbad, Can’t Hardly Wait, Risky Business or just about any other teen comedy that has gone down in history), Booksmart is just as raunchy and fun, yet explores the unique bond of a female friendship — something we don’t often get to see in film. We see how two girls share everything together: gossip, sleepover, talk about boys, sex, argue with each other and even examine their own existence in the world of adolescence.

Beanie Feldstein stars as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, BOOKSMART, an Annapurna Pictures release.Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

These things are so innate to the female experience, yet throughout history, I’ve felt that female friendship hasn’t exactly been explored in such a raw and relatable way. We get stories of women pursuing men and relationships (“Sex and the City”), see the concept of beauty and bullying for young girls in outrageous matters (Mean Girls), yet how do female friendships really play out — behind all the humor and catfights, shopping mishaps, wedding dress fights and mean girl tendencies? How does a normal, healthy and playful female friendship really play out?

(Side note: If you’re anything like me, the only comment you get when someone sees you and your female “bestie” is that they automatically assume you two are lesbian. Can we please get more representation of healthy female friendships that don’t cater to male fantasy dreamlands?)

I have to applaud Olivia Wilde for her understanding of that connection, which is so wonderfully well-done and translated to the screen through Dever and Feldstein.

Just from the opening scene of the high school classroom where we’re introduced to a majority of the cast — and world of characters that coexist in this film — do I get a sense of Wilde’s innate understanding of the teenage generation today. (And, as I’ve always been a fan of Olivia Wilde‘s work throughout the years, this movie is testament to Wilde’s talent — as an actress, humanitarian, director, woman, and even music selector herself.)

To see a cast as diverse and colorful as this simply coexisting in this high school — and, as we see along the way, come to understand each other as all one and the same — is a beautiful and timely thing to see that encapsulates the state of the teen generation today. So long are the days of dull and dreary classrooms, as we now see a cast that includes an incredibly diverse cast of ethnicities, LGBTQ and non-conforming teens.

Above all, the movie is funny. It doesn’t shy away from exploring the natural teen desires of love, lust and “going after the girl” (which I do have to applaud the team for exploring a young girl and her infatuation so natural and well). The comedic timing and pacing is fast, funny and never bores. The stunts and moments in the film, as when the girls have a little dance-off or compliment each other’s beauty endlessly, are incredibly ridiculous and charming. It seems to fulfill all teen comedy tropes, yet does so in a refreshingly honest and playful way.

Booksmart is funny. It is very feminist. It is very colorful. And it is very real.

This may well be one of the funniest, most original and perfect comedies I have seen in years. And I feel Wilde has set off the coming-of-age for a new generation who finally let the nerdy girls shine.


Have you seen this film? I’d love to know your thoughts and share below!

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