Although they existed long before it (Porky’s), American Pie kind of blew open the double-doors for the modern teen comedy. What was once a fine art is now a mass market event, and the framing ranges from gross-out humor all the way up to award-worthy dramedy. Booksmart straddles both mantles proudly. One thing you should know about Booksmart though: there’s lots of slow motion dancing set to rap songs. Oh…it’s an indie comedy alright. It might not be your jam, but it absolutely knows its audience and is proud of what it has accomplished.
Although the leads are decidedly different from what you typically see in these types of flicks, it all starts with a mental breakdown. Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein, who delivers the strongest performance in the film) is an overachiever, and she can’t believe that all of the tweakers and slackers are going off to the exact same greener pastures of college (or Google internships) that she is, with a fraction of the effort. Her best friend Amy, who is just as reclusive as Molly, is naturally in the same boat, and the two of them make a pact that their last night before High School graduation will be one to remember. It sounds cliche, but the adventures are anything but.
Booksmart takes a lot of care in setting up a number of blink and you’ll miss them moments that have substantial payoffs later in the film. There’s also a ton of detail that I feel will be obvious on repeat viewings, like Amy’s labeled clothes drawers that house specific items. Maybe the best way to describe it is effortless, even if a lot of it does feel safe. Director Olivia Wilde and the producers seemed to have a clear vision of what they wanted to do and executed it.
Part of their success relies on the talent. Billie Lourd, who comically keeps popping up wherever the duo roams, is an absolute star and has been on a roll since Scream Queens. Skyler Gisondo from the lesser known and now canceled (RIP) comedy Santa Clarita Diet, is equally affable. All told this is one of the strongest casts I’ve seen in a teen comedy to date, as there isn’t one person that didn’t deliver a likable performance.
It’s a feel good movie with all of the awkward teen trappings mixed in, through a new late-2010s lens. I heard a discussion recently that identified a new wave of comedy that can only be labeled as “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay,” and Booksmart fits that bill. It gets in, gets out, and makes sure you remember it.