‘Booksmart’: not another teen movie

“Booksmart” theatrical release poster.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

“Booksmart” theatrical release poster.

"Booksmart" Trailer

By Delilah Bourque, Senior Staff Writer

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High school is an awkward, four-year transition from childhood into semi-adulthood. While no two adolescent experiences are the same, the years we spend in high school are weird, confusing and sometimes awful. “Booksmart” captures it all.

On the surface, “Booksmart” (Dir. Olivia Wilde) looks like another coming-of-age teen movie apropos “The Inbetweeners Movie” (2011) or “American Pie” (1999), where the nerdy main characters have one night — and one night only — to navigate four years’ worth of sex, drugs and debauchery. But “Booksmart,” released May 24, is emotional and distinctive while still maintaining the raunchy comedy of typical male-centric teen sex comedies.

Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have spent their high school careers with one thing in mind — attending prestigious colleges. On the last day of their senior year, Molly discovers that while she and Amy thought themselves above their partying, alcohol-imbibing classmates, the supposed slackers have actually also found their ways into big-name universities. On a mission to show the world that they can be smart AND fun, the girls set out to attend the biggest party of the night.

Amy and Molly have basically never left the world of academics, extracurriculars and each other. Amy, a politically outspoken lesbian, has been out for two years but has never made a move on her cool-girl skater crush, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga). Molly is an uptight class president and valedictorian who is harboring a secret crush on Nick (Mason Gooding).

The film follows lots of coming-of-age comedy movies, a genre dominated mostly by male protagonism. Female characters in movies like “Superbad” (2007), which chronicles two high school senior boys trying to lose their virginities before graduation, tend to be seen only as sex objects or as less competent than their male counterparts.

“Booksmart,” in comparison, is refreshingly female. Molly and Amy are well-rounded characters who quote Malala Yousafzai and decorate their bedrooms with feminist affirmations. They talk candidly about sex and the difficulties of being teenage girls with gags and riffs reminiscent of other R-rated teen movies, but with a distinctly feminine edge. The movie sets itself apart by telling a coming-of-age story which allows girls to be smart and have agency in their sexualities without making them vessels for male satisfaction.

The film does represent all sorts of high school archetypes, like over-the-top theater kid George (Noah Galvin) and classic class clown Nick (Mason Gooding). Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and Gigi (Billie Lourd) are the so-called “one percent,” throwing an elaborate graduation party on a boat and afterwards mysteriously popping up where they’re least expected. However, the brilliant acting of a stellar cast — many new to Hollywood’s film scene —  propels the outlandish caricatures they play to people who might just exist in real life.

But some of the comedy inevitably fails to land. An entire subplot of the movie is devoted to Google-bound goofball Theo’s (Eduardo Franco) crush on school teacher and friend to Molly and Amy, Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams), which she indulges. Though Theo is explicitly mentioned as being over 18, there’s no mention to how wildly inappropriate a relationship between a high school teacher and their student is in a movie that is otherwise conscious about themes such as feminism and growing up.

While the comedy is questionable in certain places, the soundtrack varies greatly in genre but remains refreshing throughout, bouncing from girl-power anthems like Lizzo’s “Boys,” to lo-fi indie music including Cautious Clay’s “Cold War” and original music by Dan the Automator. Part of the craftsmanship of “Booksmart” is the right music playing at the right time.

In certain places, the cinematography also shines. During one climactic scene that ends with a stunning plot twist, Amy, looking for her crush Ryan, strips to her underwear and dives into a pool, resulting in a long, underwater sequence where she searches through an endless sea of bodies. The scene is a beautifully slow pause in a fast-paced film, taking time to showcase the brilliant blue of the pool and Amy’s hair floating ethereally beside her.

The movie comes to a head when Amy and Molly have a blowout argument about the future, which is painfully reminiscent of what it feels like to be unsure of where friendships stand as high school ends. But a perfect balance is struck between the sincere and the ridiculous throughout the film. No one moment is so explicit it is unrealistic, or so emotional it cannot be funny.

Raunchy movies about teenage girls are few and far between, if not nonexistent. “Booksmart” captures the painful ups and downs of being in high school, while still maintaining the ridiculous and goofy comedy of its coming-of-age predecessors.

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