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Booksmart - Review

Booksmart

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT WOULD be easy to describe, or even dismiss, coming-of-age comedy Booksmart as a female version of Superbad. But that would be doing Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut a huge disservice.

Rather, the film takes some familiar genre elements and mixes them up a little, delivering something that feels fresh, occasionally subversive yet – at times – as moving as it is outrageous. It’s a comedy with plenty of smarts.

The story follows Molly (Beanie Feldstein, younger sister of Jonah Hill) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two high school best friends and nerds, who are about to graduate and are proud of the fact they’ve worked harder to do so than any of their classmates, at the expense of going out and partying.

But following a moment of revelation, in which it is cruelly revealed that their fellow students have indeed had a great time while also getting into Yale and Stanford, Molly and Amy resolve that they need to make up for lost time and seek out the ultimate night of partying (even though they don’t know the precise location of where it is taking place).

What follows is a Superbad-inspired night of debauched revelry in which the two girls get into all sorts of scrapes, while learning about themselves and their relationship in the process.

So far, so genre familiar. But where a lot of teen-style comedies place an emphasis on sex and crudeness, with only last act redemptions and lessons for key characters, Booksmart is careful not to lose sight of the complexity of the emotions at play.

Sure, there’s laugh out loud vulgarity, plenty of profanity and a whole host of ‘out there’ characters to enliven the girls’ adventures. But there’s also a surprising amount of character insight and social observation.

Co-screenwriters Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman make Molly and Amy as likeable as they are, by turns, awkward, embarrassing, occasionally selfish and deeply caring. In doing so, they provide their two leading ladies with the opportunity to deliver two star-making performances.

Feldstein, last seen as a supporting player in the similarly excellent Lady Bird is the louder of the two: outwardly brash and confident in her own smartness, yet capable of displaying hurt and vulnerability as the realisation of what she’s been missing out on hits home.

But Dever is a revelation as Amy, who must grapple with her own sexuality and feelings of always existing in Molly’s shadow, thereby delivering a genuinely heartfelt portrayal of silent anguish tempered by unselfish loyalty.

Such is the masterful way in which Wilde directs this relationship (and the leading ladies perform it), that there’s a genuinely poignant final scene that owes more to award-winning indie fare such as Lady Bird than anything remotely similar to Superbad.

But the supporting players resonate too, whether it’s Skyler Gisondo’s similarly quirky yet inwardly insecure Jared, Diana Silvers’ cool Hope or Billie Catherine Lourd’s ‘out there’ Gigi.

The comedy, meanwhile, is terrific – whether outlandish or just plain self-deprecating or quick witted; there’s always something funny waiting in the wings.

Having already gone down a storm at this year’s SXSW, Booksmart now looks set to win audiences over in a big way, delivering a wealth of new talent in front of and behind the camera. It’s destined to become a classic coming-of-age movie in its own right – and deservedly so for the way in which it consistently engages the brain, the heart and the funny-bone.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 45mins
UK Release Date: May 27, 2019