Review: BOOKSMART (2019) – How Girl Power Can Be Frivolous And Empowering

Published by Shah Shahid on

Booksmart is a smart, funny, silly and moving story that I wish my young girls could watch. Unfortunately, the movie is super R-Rated and some of the content isn’t really suitable for pre-pre-teens. At least, in my opinion. So it’s going on my Dad-list of movies the girls need to watch in their teens. Or earlier, depending on their sensibilities. Moving on!

Booksmart Is Not The Typical Teen Comedy

Image via Annapurna Pictures.

There are countless teen comedies to choose from out there. They run the gamut from being almost too mature for their own good, to incredibly superficial and shallow. But the best ones try to capture the essence of what it means to be a teenager at that time. Their family life, social challenges, pressure in school, discovering their identity, and so much more. And Booksmart is incredibly smart to use a similar concept to tell a story that is much more at ease with itself, without trying to force a narrative. Too much. For the most part, it works.

Booksmart features two high school seniors about to graduate. On the day before their graduation, one of the two, the more high strung and ambitious Molly (Beanie Feldstein) realizes that all her sacrifices were for naught. Molly decided early on to forego the usual high school experience of boys, drama, socialization and other teenage staples, in favor of entrance into the ivy league college of her choosing. Only to realize now, that others who did indulge in the typical high school experience, also got into similar colleges of their choosing. 

Feeling cheated and experiencing a massive case of FOMO, Molly enlists her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) into one night of raucous high school partying before they graduate. Yes, Booksmart is totally a one-night-of-crazy-adventures type of movie. And as mentioned, it uses the formulaic premise to its advantage in glorious and amazing ways. 

Booksmart Is A One Night Adventure Story That’s Completely At Ease With Itself

Being Olivia Wilde’s (House, Drinking Buddies) directorial debut, Booksmart goes down some familiar, but insane avenues of comedy. Understandably, trying to make up for years of non-frivolous activity make it much harder for the girls to even find out where the party is, resulting in hilarity and self-discovery of epic proportions. Drug fuelled Barbie hallucinatory identity crisis. That’s all I’m going to say about that. 

Booksmart doesn’t pull back on any of its punches. It’s super gross when it needs to be, and super smart when it should be. The story is laser-focused with unexpected twists and turns. The two main leads are gorgeous in both personality and chemistry with one another. They are my new best friends. Don’t even question it.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever Are Revelations

Beanie Feldstein is incredible. I know she’s been in other things, but this is my first discovering of her, and she’s amazing. Feldstein plays Molly like a typical “nerd”, but not in a conventional way. The thing I’m liking about the modern-day teen comedies is how self-aware the characters are without going too Dawson’s Creek. As in, acting older than they are, while still being mature. At times. Yes, there’s a difference. Characters aren’t pigeon-holed into one personality type. Molly is a kid, but incredibly smart, completely goofy and wacky as hell when she’s with her best friend Amy. 

Last day of school | Image via Annapurna Pictures.

And my God is Amy a total revelation! Kaitlyn Dever first got on my radar during Netflix’s limited series Unbelievable. That series and Booksmart showcase Dever’s insane amount of range. Dever’s performance in Unbelievable is incredible. She plays a supposed victim of rape whose closed-off demeanor and insulated personality prevent anyone from believing her. While on the complete flip side, she is totally likable and charming in Booksmart. Dever’s Amy is the more restraint of the two friends, dealing with the usual sexual awkwardness of a typical teen. But again, never allowing that to define her entire personality. 

Most teen comedies feature supporting characters solely to be wacky and outrageous, Booksmart has some pretty loud characters as well. But that fits perfectly with the story. The most notable of them have to be Jessica Williams as the Tina Fey from Mean Girls-Esque teacher, who is also a role model for the girls. Then there’s Jared (Skylar Gisondo) who is the total loser of the ensemble, but one with a heart of gold. Jared is the comic relief of the movie for the most part.

Supporting Characters Elevate The Leads

Billie Lourd losing her wish right now | Image via Annapurna Pictures.

But his sidekick/tormentor and the total stand out supporting act of Booksmart is Billie Lourd as Gigi. Gigi is a completely whacked out person whose waters run so deep that it’s scary. Other notable appearances are from Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Kaitlyn’s parents who think the girls are lesbians lovers. And Jason Sudeikis as the pathetic principal who moonlights as a writer / sad guy. 

Booksmart is deftly directly by Olivia Wilde, and ends as it begins, on a great high note. The friendship between the two girls is never homogenized or questioned. The conflict of the movie is never obvious and never done at the expense of their friendship. It’s amazing to see a story about two girls, basically, women, where the conflict doesn’t center around a guy or something else superficial.

The Booksmart Trailer

Booksmart is not meant for my demographic; that of an emotionally middle-aged Dad with binge-watching issues. But despite that, I totally loved it. It’s a wonderful movie about friendship, self-worth and life experiences and how to live in the moment. I recommend Booksmart to everyone!

Booksmart is now streaming on Amazon Prime. 

What did you think of Booksmart? Let me know below, or on Twitter @theshahshahid 


Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad

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