Review: Booksmart

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Olivia Wilde’s bold directorial debut adds a lot of flair and style that is quite uncharacteristic in the coming-of-age genre, making it all the more refreshing.

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Booksmart is a smashing directorial debut from Olivia Wilde. Funny, clever and at times filthy, this film carries the narrative seen in past teen movies such as Superbad and updates it for today’s generation. Supported with some stylish visuals and a soundtrack that reflects the music preferences of current young audiences, Booksmart marks a refreshing take on the familiar coming-of-age genre in both its story and execution.

Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are overachieving senior students. They’ve put studies ahead of parties to ensure they get into their dream colleges, which has paid off for them. However, when they find out everyone who they thought were burnouts also have great opportunities ahead of them, they realise they could have worked and played hard too. So, on the night before graduation, they set off to find the best party in town – proving to be a more difficult task than they thought it would be. Even though the film primarily takes place at night, Jason McCormick’s cinematography plays a lot with the lighting and the camera to add a surprising amount of colour in the outdoor scenes. While many teen movies can be quite static in their shot compositions, there is always a sense of mobility with each eye-catching visual whether it’s a lens flare or stop-motion sequence.

One of the standout features of this film is its progressive portrayal of adolescents. Booksmart subverts the cliques we have come to know in the films of John Hughes and Mean Girls. Here, most of the characters have many facets to their personalities to the point where no one really fits into one type. Even though Amy is openly lesbian, it is not her defining characteristic – which is commendable, since it’s all too often where characters in teen films are assigned certain traits that pigeonhole them. The film doesn’t do this perfectly; the drama kids are overly dramatic and, while Billie Lourd is amusing as Gigi, her character is mostly memorable for her enigmatic appearances. Nonetheless, it is wonderful to see Booksmart continuing to break these trends down as done with other recent films such as Lady Bird and Eighth Grade.

Another strength of Booksmart is in its portrayal of the friendship between the two leads. Feldstein and Dever are fantastic and their fun dynamic allows audiences to really warm to their characters. Whether they are enthusiastically complimenting each other or sharing strange experiences, their relationship feels very organic and believable. The supporting cast are also great and charming in their roles. As a whole, they pop up and shine in both the comedic and tenser moments when required. Even though Booksmart features a large cast, it never feels overcrowded as the film spreads out its characters very well and only uses them sparingly.

Overall, Booksmart is very enjoyable. Not only is this film aware of other entries in the genre, it provides its own take on recognisable tropes and story structures within coming-of-age movies. Perhaps drawing on her experience as an actor, Wilde confidently marries style and substance which makes for a grand first entry in the director’s chair.

Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One UK, certificate 15.

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A third-year English Student. You can often find me sleeping/studying in the library.

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