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Booksmart: Smart, feminist and funny

Faline Bobier

June 7, 2019

Review of Booksmart

“The young generation are like: ‘You’ve put us in a fucked-up political situation, the Earth is dying, there are maniacs in power, you’ve created this binary way of thinking about gender and sexuality, which we don’t accept. We’d actually like to shift this paradigm – you’re done!’”

This is a quote from director Olivia Wilde about her new movie Booksmart. Run don’t walk to see this film. It’s a story about two young girls and best friends, about to graduate from high school: Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). On the last day before their graduation ceremony Molly inadvertently learns what the other kids think of them – nerds who care only about studying and have no life outside of their books.

When Molly learns that those kids she disdained because they were out partying and fooling around have also made it into Ivy League colleges she decides that she and Amy need to change their reputations. They have to spend their last night before the high school graduation ceremony proving how much they can party with the best of them.

Some have called Booksmart a female companion piece to Superbad, a movie about male high school friendship starring Jonah Hill. In some ways it is that. It’s certainly just as side-splittingly funny. But this movie is about a different era, one in which gender norms are being challenged on all sides in the midst of attempts by Trump-like politicians to push millennials, and particularly young women, back into rigid gender roles.

One of the refreshing things about Booksmart is that it doesn’t play to the stereotypes often seen in movies about high school. The jocks are not just jocks, the ‘nerds’ are not just nerds. This is a movie that allows high school students to be their own quirky and individual selves to hilarious and touching effect.

But the real revelation and heart of the movie is the friendship between Molly and Amy. They both have crushes on other people – Molly on the high school jock, Nick, who has also been the totally ineffectual vice president for her tenure as class president – and Amy on a young woman who she’s not even sure is gay. As Molly says to her, “You’ve been out for two years but you haven’t kissed a girl yet.”

A lot of the action involves following Molly and Amy around Los Angeles as they try and track down the ‘A+’ party being held at Nick’s aunt’s place, in the process meeting up with their high school principal (working as a Lyft driver to supplement a bad teacher’s salary), a potential serial killer and one of their favourite high school teachers who provides them with sufficiently sparkly clothes to wear to the party.

This is Wilde’s first foray as a director and it’s a wonder. Not only is her casting of all the parts spot on but there are some amazing sequences – a hilarious stop motion bit where the two girls feel the effects of the drug-coated strawberries they innocently ingested and a beautiful underwater sequence where Amy, mermaid-like, searches for the girl she has a crush on, amidst a crush of swarming teenagers in the swimming pool at Nick’s aunt’s.

Compared to the usual bloated superhero movies and bad romantic comedies that are summer’s usual movie fare, Booksmart is a gem of a movie. It’s funny and smart and feminist with two amazing actors – Feldstein and Dever – at its heart.

It’s also a bit of a cautionary tale. Molly has her future mapped out, or so she thinks. It includes becoming the youngest female justice on the Supreme Court. Given the current trajectory of American politics where a disgusting misogynist like Brett Kavanagh has ascended to the Supreme Court and where a woman’s right to choose is in danger in several states across the US, the millennials portrayed in Wilde’s film have their work cut out for them if they want to live as free human beings, not shackled by sexist and homophobic outmoded constructions of gender and sexual orientation.

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