Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut with Booksmart, a slightly derivative teen friendship drama that still proves mostly enjoyable thanks to memorable performances and a layer of sweet, wistful charm.
Wilde and her four screenwriters have stated that their pic was inspired by films like The Breakfast Club, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Dazed And Confused and Clueless, and they could have also added Lady Bird (in which co-lead Beanie Feldstein played a similar role) and Superbad (a cruder, blokier version of this tale starring her brother Jonah Hill) to the list. But despite all that familiarity, this addition to the canon retains its own distinct personality, and a lovely sense of adolescent melancholy.
Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Feldstein) are high school seniors and longtime besties about to attend their last day of school and uneasy about the goofy hi-jinx they’ll be facing. Considered pretentious and overly studious by the other kids, their extremely strong bond is cleverly captured in such a way that we can also see that it’s very nearly co-dependent, and that its inevitable ripping-apart is going to really hurt, which gives the film a vague sense of dread from the get-go.
Molly, who’s got into Yale University, painfully realises that she could have achieved that but also had some wild teenage fun on the side like her peers, and she convinces Amy that they need to go to a big party organised by Nick (Mason Gooding) that evening and go crazy. However, when they can’t find Nick’s address they instead embark on one of those all-night-long episodic odysseys that youth-oriented movies frequently do so well, and wind up popping into a lavish celebration put on by the sadly friendless Jared (Skyler Gisondo), stopping off at a ‘murder mystery’ event put on by affected George (Noah Galvin), enduring a surprise appearance by their snarky headmaster Jordan Brown (Jason Sudeikis), and so forth.
It’s all a little too, ahem, American at times, and yet this has a great deal going for it anyway, especially that cast that also includes: Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s oh-so-positive parents; Jessica Williams as their concerned but cool teacher Miss Fine; American Horror Story’s Billie Lourd as the drama-queen-ish Gigi; and Victoria Ruesga as Ryan, the spacy classmate who Amy has secretly long-adored. But they don’t detract from Dever’s Amy and Feldstein’s Molly, whose eventual mighty blow-up seriously stings.
Which brings Booksmart back to its core question: how are the pair going to change, or even end, what has been their most important (and nearly only) relationship, and actually grow the Hell up?
Booksmart (MA) is in cinemas now