Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Booksmart (2019) Is A Genuine Revelation

Booksmart Movie Review
Photo Credit: United Artists Releasing
Every generation has a coming-of-age movie that speaks to them - Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Mean Girls. Joining a solid pack of recent flicks exploring girls' complex emotions and moving into the real world - Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Olivia Wilde's directorial debut with Booksmart explores even the bookworms don't know it all.

From earning admission into Yale to doing charity work in Botswana, best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have high aspirations for themselves and their classmates. When Molly discovers that the slackers have also leveled up into amazing post-high school opportunities without sacrificing fun, she encourages Amy to squeeze four years of partying into the night before graduation. 

The enthusiastic and personable performances by Beanie and Kaitlyn easily make them the break-out stars of the year. Dropping us in on their last day at high school, their quick-witted conversations and unbreakable admiration for each other is adorably infectious. From the beginning, the story immediately feels like we're at the center of their enduring friendship, being an outcast, and understanding their flaws  before their summer break. As the film's leading ladies not only do they  have amazing chemistry and timing but also exude a genuine love for playing their individual characters. As much as they are equally awesome together, both Beanie and Kaitlyn create effervescent performances as relatively unknown actors.

The film covers a lot of bases to build their friendship and the kids around them, but it's never overwhelming or too simple. As poster women of Generation Z, Molly and Amy are tenaciously independent and inclusive about each other, but they fall short of giving other students a chance. As much as the film comes to life with Feldstein and Dever, they're wonderfully backed-up by other supporting characters - the wild child Gigi (Billie Lourd), the hard-ass Hope (Diana Silvers), the slut "Triple A" (Molly Gordon), the rich loser Jared (Skyler Gisondo). Refreshingly, none of their classmates aren't typically villainous or bully the girls for their book smarts. Instead, everyone is set apart by the reputation Molly and Amy judges them with, and then they're able to play a humanizing side  to their characters. Appearances aren't what they seem for both the main characters and their counterparts.

Helmed by actress Olivia Wilde making her directorial debut and rom-com writer Katie Silberman, Booksmart easily shows the power and empowerment of what can happen when women are behind and in front of the camera. The world that Wilde lays out is easily recognizable as just another part of the Gen Z / millennial environment filled with intricate costume design and set design. (The soundtrack is pretty banging too.) Booksmart's raucous rite of passage is filled with hilarious antics such as a murder mystery, drug-induced episode, and seeing a whole other side of their teachers. It also explores the heartfelt (humiliating and confusing) ways Molly & Amy try to explore their sexuality, have their friendship tested, and maybe fall in love. From the inside out, the film was refreshingly fused with unadulterated passion that's nearly impossible to ignore.

The film itself is not a revolutionary concept. Its plot and humor share similarities with Superbad and Broad City, but it's not an outright copycat. Even though the film's premise harbors on the girls' unpredictable shenanigans, the comedic set pieces or running gags might not work for everybody. A few issues stick out in the script such as a few stereotypical gay characters and a graduating student and teacher hooking up at a party. Depending on personal taste, the raunchy humor might cross a line (I'm not a fan of raunchy humor, but I was fine with it. here) These aren't necessarily flaws that make the movie unwatchable or horrible; just little flubs that could've been tightened or might leave audiences wondering if the hype was worth it.

Unfortunately, the most important element to some might be the hype itself. In the sea of reboots and sequels, there's a consistent cry for original movies. Booksmart ticked a lot of boxes that would make other movies considered 'revolutionary' by now. Yet when it comes to directors or stories that are about women, the LGBTQ community or people of color, there's an expectation that they have to do and be better than all other films that have come before it. It's a boring, old, and disappointing standard that makes even the most original movies struggle to break out from the pack. There's a big difference with not liking a movie because everyone's tastes are different or it was poorly made versus the interest for a movie falling apart because it's being used as a measuring stick against all other movies. And sadly, the latter seems to be the bigger part of the case here for Booksmart. The hype might win out for movie-goers or it might not. I'm definitely in the former.

Movies directed by filmmakers other than white and male shouldn't be hailed as perfect just because the directors aren't white and male; but they should be given room to be hailed as great, imperfect, funny, romantic, etc. if they fit those traits. Booksmart is all of these things for me. There wasn't one scene where I didn't feel like I was having a good time with how Olivia Wilde sets the film up and leads the girls from one unexpected experience after another while celebrating female friendship and challenging the assumptions that young adults make about each other. Molly and Amy aren't just cardboard cutouts of girls as we've seen in movies before - they're unabashedly nerdy, sex-positive, self-assured, vulnerable, determined, curious, and witty. Women being women. It's a revelation, and maybe even a little revolutionary.

Rating for the film: ★★★
Have you seen Booksmart? What do you think?

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