REVIEW: Booksmart

So… Superbad but equality flavoured?

Its the eve of their high school graduation as best friends, Molly and Amy, two academic, high achievers, decide to conclude their teenage years with a night of heavy partying.

In Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, audiences are asked the question: what if Superbad was made with a bit of artistic flare? A stylised, sweet midnight odyssey which isn’t quite perfect but still highly entertaining, Booksmart does to Superbad what Bridesmaids did to The Hangover.

A film more unapologetically serviced to a female audience, Booksmart still manages to feature enough diverse and energetic material to please a mass of cinemagoers. Although the film does not vary too far from the traditional American coming-of-age party film formula seen in flicks like American Pie or, again, Superbad, Wilde’s debut makes up for some of its tedious narrative in style and performance, down a similar vein to Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.

What Booksmart relies on most is the lead performances from Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s sister – another Superbad link) and Kaitlyn Dever, whom honestly worked fabulously together in this film. The two young actresses bounced off one another with their chemistry perfectly and simultaneously kept this film afloat, even in its most absurd moments. Their friendship felt real, not just because of the script, but because how accomplished Feldstein and Dever appeared as youthful up-and-coming talents. The best element of Booksmart would have to be these two actresses and how they carried the load of this entire film brilliantly, between one another.

Wilde’s direction also shined true in Booksmart as an applaudable directorial debut. Wilde seemingly showcased her keen eye in Booksmart for creating energised to dramatic to heartwarming moments shared between cast members. The way Wilde also carried the camera in most moments to address the magnitude and range of various sequences truly impressed me as a new director with a talent for crafting both perfect tone and mood. To me, I believe Wilde secured the best from her actors and did so with such finesse that for the most half, I bypassed the lack of originality or strength in the script to keep Booksmart‘s narrative relevant the whole way through.

(Annapurna Pictures / Courtesy of Entertainment One 2019)

So, yeah, I would have to admit the screenplay for Booksmart was what brought this film down a few levels for me. Technically, I don’t think there was anything necessarily wrong with Booksmart‘s screenplay, but it was just how the script offered no real new material that made it feel evidently poor at times.

I heard ahead of time that Booksmart was being described as the female version of Superbad with Jonah Hill’s sister and blah blah blah. What I was hoping for, after hearing said criticisms, that the film would be similar to Superbad in tone and mood but would subvert the narrative to tell a refreshing, entirely new story… that’s not what I got.

Although executing the tone and mood perfectly, Booksmart just felt like a riff on literally every other teen comedy drama that involves high school gossip and weekend long parties. The film stuck so closely to formula that its entertainment value steepened throughout to the point that the movie even got a bit too absurd to feel real at times. Its cheesiness didn’t feel earned and its silly over-the-top moments, like say the graduation scene, just came off messy and poor in execution. Sure Superbad too was a bit dumb, but the difference is that it committed to its dumb approach first, before other films copied it. And if you’re ballsy enough to pretty much just do kind of the same thing, then seriously… what are you doing? Just be a bit more original please.

But yeah, I would say those negatives I had concerning Booksmart were only minor. The comedy didn’t always land for me, but I know for a fact there are audiences who will find Booksmart hilarious on all fronts.

In a way, I would say Booksmart was a variation on art when considering the strength of the two leads and the chemistry between them, also Wilde’s direction and the film’s general visual beauty. Notable moments of visual splendour came in long tracking shots at various parties, including a certain moment in a pool, and a brief, surprising animation segment for which I loved. You see, the creative juices in Booksmart were there… it just needed a bit more “oomph” to standout.

The story was heartwarming, of course, and yes the relationship between Molly and Amy felt earned, but not because of the script’s predictability but because of the talent I have listed constantly in this review: Feldstein, Dever and Wilde. I don’t want to seem like I hated Booksmart, because generally this is a film I would definitely recommend.

Nothing entirely new, but still something to enjoy, Booksmart was not exactly what I would call style over substance, considering there was still elements of substance in it (just found in different places than usual), but it certainly excelled in its visual appeal. Also marking a perfect jumping off point for its two lead actresses and director to move onto larger projects, I have to say Booksmart was still one of the better films I have seen in 2019. Highly entertaining and a good night out.

Booksmart is a bloody… CRUSADE!!


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