Adorable, authentic and aspirationally acerbic, “Booksmart” is a comic triumph that skewers the high school graduate experience and forms the impudent middle chapter of a loose thematic coming-of-age trilogy which starts with “Eighth Grade” and segues into “Lady Bird”.
On the eve of their high school graduation, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) – two of their school’s highest-flying academic superstars realise that while their dedication to hard work has paid off in their college options, their party-hard peers have also managed to get into the same colleges. Determined to right this terrible injustice, the two set out to cram a whole high school career’s worth of fun into one night.
Marking the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, it’s clear that she’s very much an actor’s director, creating a supportive and collaborative atmosphere which brings out the very best in her young cast. There’s an effortless verisimilitude to the performances and interactions as the cast release their inhibitions and experiment with their roles. Billie Lourd is a stand-out in a uniformly great cast as a kind of ‘manic pixie fever-dream girl’ whose increasingly bizarre appearances become one of the film’s best running gags.
Feldstein – who at times put me in mind of a (very) young Miriam Marogyles – and Dever bring an abundance on energy and eccentric heart to a movie which treads the same ground as gross-out comedies like “Superbad” and “American Pie” but the razor-sharp script and overwhelmingly warm empathy of Wilde’s sure-handed direction mean that it never descends into cruel or exploitative crudity for the sake of a laugh nor does it ever allow its bawdiness to overpower or diminish its emotional touchpoints or the resonance of its diverse and well-written characters.
Feisty and vulnerable, shy and proud, “Booksmart” is a triumphant comedy about friendship, growing up and growing out into the world. More of all of this, please.