Familiar but confident, Booksmart a wise commentary

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Two high school students are intent on finding a party that all of their peers are going to.  Unfortunately, they don’t have the address and in trying to find this get-together, they get caught up in one outlandish situation after another before finally getting to the soiree. Ultimately, they come to realize that attending it wasn’t worth the trouble.  Excessive drinking, drug use and teenage sex occur throughout the night, during which the two friends, though enduring a misunderstanding or three, come to know and care for each other more than they did before.

As far as this plot summary is concerned, 2007’s Superbad comes immediately to mind amidst the many, many other movies of this ilk. Add Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart to the list, as it too, chronicles the misadventures of two likable teens. While it scores no points where originality is concerned, the fact that its two protagonists are self-assured, overachieving young women is refreshing. It may seem like a simple and obvious wrinkle to the formula, yet this new perspective yields a bounty of fresh insights regarding what today’s teenage girls are dealing with. The film is not simply timely but wicked smart as well.

During their high school years, best friends Molly and Amy (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) have done everything right. They haven’t dated, never socialized with their peers, have spent their nights studying or watching documentaries rather than partying and have been solely focused on getting into their top college of choice.  Problem is, Molly finds out that the classmates who she’s considered irresponsible and immature are actually going to elite colleges as well, which infuriates her to no end. Fueled by a sense of cataclysmic injustice only a teenager can foster, she decides that she and Amy are going to pack a whole four years-worth of screwing around into one night, the sole goal being to get to her secret crush Nick’s (Mason Gooding) party where all sorts of hijinks are sure to take place.

And with this, the familiar, wayward journey into the night begins.  One of the more refreshing things about the movie is that our heroines are more than prepared for anything that happens.  Yes, they are surprised at times, but Molly and Amy are not victims.  These are smart young ladies who are prepared for anything that’s thrown at them, unlike their Superbad counterparts who are no strangers to flailing about in a panic when curveballs come their way. 

That they are smarter and more capable than most everyone they meet generates a great many comic moments, as do the awkward scenes when they confront their crushes, which are replete with humor and heartache. Feldstein and Dever are a delight throughout.  The former is brazen, confident and assured while the later, though not a wallflower, hesitates to stand up for herself.  This is a problem that’s rectified by the end, as she finds her voice as well as the power that comes from sticking up for yourself.  Amy’s journey is one all teen girls should see, as it is one of quiet empowerment that should be noted and emulated at all costs.

To be sure, there are problems with the script.  There are a couple too many convenient coincidences for comfort, at least two major sequences are so outlandish they’re hard to believe and, well, it’s not all that original.  Yet, Booksmart is worth seeing, if for nothing else, the scenes in which Molly and Amy gleefully validate one another, not simply with verbal compliments but with acts of loyalty they display throughout.  This is the sort of girl power our society is sorely lacking and needs more of, contained in a movie that’s vital and timely in a way so many teen comedies are not.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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