Getting straight A's.
Giving zero F's.
Streaming on Hulu | 2019 | R | 1h 42m
Genre: Nerd Comedy, Coming-of-Age
Why We Watched: I watched this movie because of the women behind it—costars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein and director Olivia Wilde. In particular, though, it's Dever who was really the draw. Post–Disney Channel, she's appeared in a number of independent films, including The Spectacular Now, Short Term 12, Detroit, and Beautiful Boy—and she nailed every single role. (She was also just f*cking incredible in Netflix's Unbelievable , but that streamed after Booksmart had left theaters.) At just 22, she's shown more range than many adults are able to demonstrate in a lifetime. I'm here for any project that she's part of.
You Might Also Like: Well... the obvious choice is Superbad (2007; on Netflix). Everyone compared Booksmart to the earlier bro-comedy of the early aughts. So sure, go watch it. And then realize how much better Feldstein is in Booksmart than her brother Jonah Hill (yes, her brother) was in Superbad...
Molly (Feldstein) begins her last day of high school like any other graduating senior would: Listening to affirmations of greatness. Good morning, winner. Take a deep breath. (That's Maya Rudolph's voice, in case you missed the cameo.) The camera pans around her bedroom, and we see an altar to powerful women, where Ruth Bader Ginsburg features prominently. Molly is class president and Yale-bound. She wears a blazer to class.
But before you have a chance to hate her—like she's Election's Tracy Flick circa 2019—you see her dance like a goofball with her best friend Amy (played by Dever). Amy is the warm and likable underdog who is always ready to (over) commit to the next club or cause. And together, the two have survived their unconventional path toward graduation. They've focused on school and school alone, rejecting the socializing ways of their peers, because they knew that's what it would take to make it to the Ivy League and later save the world. Until, with a jolt, they realize the kids who they thought were slacking off got into colleges just as good as theirs.
So for their last night of school, what do these two overachievers want to achieve? They're going to cram all of the fun they missed into one single night.
What follows is the most fun movie I've watched all year. I watched it in the theater with Grace and Tess, and we were falling-out-of-our-chairs laughing. A few bullet points, if I may, because there's simply too much to digest:
The cast of little knowns and unknowns is one of Allison Jones's best ever. If you don't know Jones, you should: She cast Freaks and Geeks, Parks and Recreation, Superbad, Lady Bird, Veep, Bridesmaids... As one reviewer wrote, "there's a decent argument to be made that few people have been more important to the last 25 years of American comedy."
The score is ridiculously amazing. It was produced by Dan the Automator, best known for the Gorillaz self-titled 2001 album. The number of scenes set perfectly to music are innumerable. Lizzo, "Holy Calamity," Perfume Genius... ugh, it's so good.
The script avoids stereotypical teen-party-traps like dynamite. For example, one of the parties Molly and Amy attend is a murder mystery party; another is on a yacht. The screenplay was penned by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman.
It's not a love story. Well, it is kind of, but not in the way you would expect from a teen movie. Both of the girls have crushes, but it's their relationship with one another that's the focus.
I didn't want this newsletter to be about gender, because I think it's garbage to say things like "Booksmart is the female Superbad." No one points it out when a movie is written, directed, and cast by all men.... And yet. This movie captures the fierceness of female friendships and the fear of losing someone you've had by your side your whole life. And we have the fact that so many women were involved in its production to thank for this authentic take on what it's like surviving high school for teenage girls.*
While this movie might be anchored in something profound, it's still squarely in the tradition of the one-crazy-night comedy. It's funny and light and kind, and it celebrates everyone—literally, everyone. This isn't Mean Girls, or Election, or Heathers. This is a new genre of teen movie that asks us all to consider whether we're just misunderstanding the people we think we hate—whether it's the popular kids or the know-it-alls. And it's a freaking revelation.
*Ask me my thoughts on Eighth Grade over a drink...