While it’s not quite the high school cinematic epiphany you’ve been led to believe, “Booksmart” puts a fresh new spin on the coming-of-age comedy. It’s smart, energetic, and delivers a twist on the typical randy teenage movie by flipping the script to focus instead on smart girls behaving badly.
Academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are socially awkward, bookish superstars who are longtime best friends. On the eve of their high school graduation, the duo suddenly realize they could’ve worked less, played more, and still gotten accepted at a prestigious college. Determined to make up for lost time, the girls set out on a wild and crazy mission to cram four years of high school partying and fun into one night.
The film is fairly tame, considering the plot, and isn’t loaded with an excess of bawdy humor. First-time director Olivia Wilde obviously draws on her personal high school experiences, and it shows in her spot-on understanding of the characters. Yes, there’s plenty of emotion tied to this night of misadventures as two friends dart around town looking for the next hot party.
The modern high school vibe won’t be lost on older viewers either, as the more things change, the more they stay the same. The leads are wildly likeable (despite their performances being a little overreaching at times) and have a believable chemistry, and their rapport is what drives the film home. This project could’ve nosedived in the other direction with less enjoyable actors.
What doesn’t work is the forced acceptance and the flip-flopped teen move clichés. Instead of the loser nerd, the film gives us Jared (Skyler Gisondo), a gold chain wearing, muscle car driving, awkward geek. He provides a little comic relief, but everyone is kind and friendly to him. Same for Gigi (Billie Lourd), a spaced-out, eccentric hippie. Even the stoner who draws wieners on the bathroom stalls is one of the crowd. He is, after all, going to code for Google after graduation.
Everyone casually gets along, from the goths to the gays to the jocks to the burnouts. Everyone is smart. Everyone has a career path. To me, that feels insincere. Even the gender swapping feels obligatory in today’s crop of “Superbad” homeages.
Despite the film’s stumbles, it’s enjoyable and original enough to elicit a few laughs. It’s silly and fun, but far from an instant classic.