Booksmart is a hilarious high school comedy that will fly under the radar as one of the underappreciated releases of the summer. That is unfortunate. It wields razor sharp wit and features great performances from leads and supporting cast alike. The writing is flat-out funny and squeezes every ounce of adult humor from its R rating.
Directed by first-timer Olivia Wilde, the comedy stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. The pair play over-achieving high school seniors Amy and Molly. Both are nerds bound for the Ivy League. They are best friends and self-imposed social outcasts. 24 hours before high school graduation, Feldstein’s Molly realizes that their pursuit of academic excellence robbed them of fun. The rest of the film is devoted to getting to an epic party so that they can graduate without regrets.
And they experience a lot in one night. The two embark on an intense adventure to redeem their high school social lives. The self-imposed urgency heightens the stakes as they interact with crushes and act like they belong. This is particularly important for Amy. She has been out of the closet for two years, but is finally pursuing her crush and sexuality.
Beanie Feldstein returns to familiar territory in the film. This is not her first role as a naive student. Booksmart is a blend of her characters in the Oscar-nominated high school flick Lady Bird and the FX vampire series What We Do In the Shadows. Feldstein even uses her Broadway background in a dance scene.
The movie has a strong ensemble comprised of Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, Mike O’Brien, and Jessica Williams. Wilde’s husband Jason Sudeikis plays their burnt out high school principal with his typical spot-on performances. The high schoolers were cast with varying levels of experience. One notable cast member is Billie Lourd. The daughter of Carrie Fisher, Lourd is hysterical as the omnipresent and absurd Gigi.
Olivia Wilde is perfect in her directorial debut. Despite a 105-minute running length, Booksmart moves at a crisp pace for a comedy. The story never crawls on one scene for too long. Any bit that takes time to build becomes a rewarding use of its screen time.
Wilde also got her money’s worth out of the film’s R-rating. Last year’s female-directed, girl-centric R rated comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me, burnt itself by using mostly PG-13 humor and R violence. The result was just okay. Booksmart targets its comedy appropriately. The adult-level sexual humor slays and is a much more worthwhile venture for a comedy whose rating limits the audience.
A refreshing aspect of Booksmart is its social dynamics. Yes, the high schoolers are their usual clique-ish selves. As Amy and Molly hop to different parties, they find that the graduating seniors welcome them. The teenagers are comfortable with approaching their differences.
In almost any other high school comedy, the nerds must explain their oddities to the jocks. This film sees the protagonists as the pretentious ones who come down to earth and change. The jocks, for once, reveal themselves to the nerds. The less divisive writing allows for greater social interaction, helping the duo go on their own journey of self-discovery.
Booksmart checks all the boxes. Terrific performances and writing elevate the raunchy humor. Despite box office burial in the hype of Avengers: Endgame and Aladdin 2.0, Olivia Wilde’s film is worth the trip to the movie theaters.