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'Booksmart': A Smart Teen Film

It’s probably too scandalous for grandma, but you can take your mom.

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Scene from 'Booksmart'

Scene from 'Booksmart'

Booksmart is a movie everyone thinks they know because they think they’ve seen one identical to it a hundred times. High school nerds wreak revenge on jocks and prom queens, and\or get laid for the first time, during graduation week. The characters are so familiar I don’t need to describe them in detail.

Fortunately director Olivia Wilde and screenwriters Susanna Fogle, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman have turned the clichés on their heads and produced a thoroughly fresh take on the coming of age genre.    

There are no real bad guys in this movie, just kids.The quarterback may be clueless when it comes to dealing with sensitive females, but he’s not an asshole. Pretty girls aren’t all slutty bitches and trollops can be interesting without having the most misunderstood hearts of gold in the class. Even stoners can be way more complex than they appear at first.

The movie is carried in large part by the two leads, Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s little sister) and Kaitlyn Dever. The two play BFFs, valedictorian Molly and salutatorian Amy respectively.  Obsessive over-achievers, Molly’s on her way to Yale and Amy has an internship in Botswana. Sadly, their entire high school experience has involved studying and studying some more.Their inflated sense of accomplishment crashes when they discover classmates with more well-rounded lives aren’t all going to end up flipping burgers.

Feldstein matches her brother’s on-screen charisma and is very likely to be the next break-out comedy star. If, like me, you’re a big fan of the FX channel’s What We Do In The Shadows you’ll recognize her as the “stupid little donkey baby vampire.” Hollywood will probably try to package her in the same way they have Melissa McCarthy, but Booksmart is way funnier than anything McCarthy has done. I’ll be very disappointed if Feldstein falls into the fat girls get horny too pit McCarthy seems trapped in.

Cameos by Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, and Jennifer Williams are fun while they last but none of these guys have much to do. It feels like they may have agreed to appear as a personal favor to first-time director Olivia Wilde. There’s nothing wrong with that, but another 90 seconds for each of these veteran comedians would’ve been a nice addition that wouldn’t have interfered with the film’s pace or content.  

Speaking of Wilde, you’re most likely to recognize her as Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley from the TV cult hit House. Booksmart is her solid directorial debut. She utilizes multiple approaches to scenes without making the movie feel disjointed. Some scenes are languid while others are frenetic. A couple of others border on the surreal. But as can be the case with less talented direction, you’re never left wondering what the hell she is trying to do.

The most memorable of these stylistic forays involves stop motion animation puppets discussing the pros and cons of having a doll’s anatomy. Needless to say, there are hallucinogenic drugs involved.

Although, is anyone else aware of a drug in the real world that will give you a wicked LSD high for fifteen minutes and then go away? I’m nitpicking.

Drugs, multiple references to oral sex, an intense (if endearingly clumsy) clothes-on lesbian encounter on a bathroom floor, the omnipresence of the “F Word” and assorted other peccadilloes might give you reservations about asking grandma to a Saturday matinee.  Booksmart’s R-rating is well-earned. Maybe take mom if she’s feeling especially randy.

Booksmart hasn’t made a bunch of money so far and that concerns me because it deserves to. Part of the problem is that a couple other movies aimed at a similar demographic have opened, or soon will, at about the same time. Booksmart’s not really a “teen” movie but you may think it is and you’re waiting to spend your money on Late Night, or something more appropriate for a sophisticate like yourself. You might think that since you’ve seen innumerable Revenge of the Nerds-type flicks you’ve seen this one.  You haven’t.

There’s no life-altering message in Booksmart and you’ll never wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it, although you might giggle in the shower a time or two. This movie is a fun and funny diversion.

I get into movies for free, so I understand the reluctance to spend big bucks on multiple films. Smart movies deserve to make money, though. God help us, there’s enough brainless trash raking in hundreds of millions. Buy a ticket to Booksmart.  If you have a few bucks left over, go see Latenight too.