Sometimes, even the best films in a genre can lack that special something that makes them truly stand out. As good as movies like “Blockers,” “America Pie,” “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” are, most are capable of providing laughs and that’s about it.
Olivia Wilde’s (“Tron: Legacy,” “House”) directorial debut with "Booksmart" does have the laughs, the spark and so much more. The combination of all these elements is what helps turn “Booksmart” into an absolute instant classic and one of the best comedies of the decade.
The chemistry of Kaitlyn Dever (“Last Man Standing”) and Beanie Feldstein (“Lady Bird”) as best friends Amy and Molly is incredibly fleshed out and real. The two bicker and banter back and forth in a way that shows the nuances and ticks that can only show up when two people have known each other for as long as they have.
Their arcs are well-realized and remarkably deep. The attention given to their characters assures that they never become one dimensional and it helps give a lasting impression.
With such strong lead characters, it would be understandable if the supporting cast fell flat. However, one of the biggest strengths of “Booksmart” is its ensemble, filled with characters who all shine whenever they’re on screen.
This isn’t just because of their comedic timing, as many are given small mini-arcs that help to fuel Amy and Molly’s own. The cast is peppered with the likes of Jason Sudeikis (“Horrible Bosses,” “Saturday Night Live”), Jessica Williams (“The Daily Show,” “2 Dope Queens”), Eduardo Franco (“The Package,” “American Vandal”), Noah Galvin (“The Real O’Neals,” “Assassination Nation”), Skyler Gisondo (Vacation (2015),” “Santa Clarita Diet”), Mason Gooding (“Ballers”), Diana Silvers (“Ma (2019)”), Victoria Ruesga and more.
Gisondo is a wonderfully charming awkward kid as Jared, and both Silvers and Ruesgand make the absolute most out of limited screen-time as Hope and Ryan.
Williams is kick-ass teacher Ms. Fine, whom the class idolizes, and Franco is wonderful as lovably spaced out soccer player Theo. Gooding is also wonderfully charming as Nick, the class vice president.
However, the queen of stealing scenes throughout the entire film is Billie Lourd, as the completely bizarre and trippy Gigi. She practically glides through each scene with a crazed free-wheeling anarchistic energy that would make her mother, Carrie Fisher, immediately proud.
She serves as a weird kind of soothsayer and also the source of some of the film’s most bizarre humor and sequences. She’s without a doubt one of the singular best elements of “Booksmart.”
Lourd’s out-there performance and the rest of the wonderful characters wouldn’t exist without the sharp script. Writers Katie Silberman (“Isn’t It Romantic,” “Set It Up”), Emily Halpern (“Trophy Wife”), Sarah Haskins (“Trophy Wife”), and Susanna Fogel (“The Spy Who Dumped Me”) have written a tight and consistently funny script that has some of the most varied and effective humor in recent memory.
For every joke about Susan B. Anthony or feminism, there’s one about masturbation and various kinds of drugs. It’s incredibly funny, balancing a wry sense of smarts with a warm crudity. However, thanks to the effort put into building Amy and Molly’s journey, it manages to be a great story that would succeed event without its copious amount of jokes.
Wilde also directs this film with a clear style with a heavy emphasis on lighting and musical cues. She and cinematographer Jason McCormick (“Lemon”) make heavy of warm ambient lighting and the bright Los Angeles sun to create a comedy that is as well shot as it is written.
One sequence in a pool is particularly well shot and is the standout cinematic sequence from the film. The score from Dan the Automator helps to infect the film with a beating synth heart, and the song selection is a great mixtape of comedy classics from the 80s, 90s and beyond.
That particular aforementioned spark is the theme of the movie, of course. Built on the classic fear of missing out, Wilde and her writers have crafted a story unique in exactly what it wants to say. In fact, the film pulls a complete 180 from its opening, turning a seemingly cynical “be better than those lesser than you” into a wonderful conclusion about perceptions and stereotypes.
It’s even thought-provoking at times, especially in the ways it throws its main characters under the bus at times. It’s not afraid to show how messed up even their perceptions of life can be, and the ability to treat its leads as real people, as opposed to sacred cows who can do no wrong, is refreshing.
So many other films of this genre, like the much-referenced “Superbad,” have characters that do learn things, but don’t really change. “Booksmart” throws this idea out the window and commits the most radical shift the genre has seen in recent years: treat its characters like people.
What this leaves audiences with is one of the most radically funny and wonderfully poignant stories of friendship, drugs, queerness, and underage drinking ever brought to the big screen.
Carried by its completely game cast, and elevated by legitimately smart film making techniques, “Booksmart” may very well be a shift for the entire genre. Even if it isn’t, it will remain a genuine crowning achievement that passes with flying colors as the best movie of 2019 so far. 5/5