Every generation has one. The teen-comedy that speaks to high schoolers and encapsulates who they are, what they stand for, their dreams and fears. Some transcend time and appeal to every teenager; (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls), while others are horribly dated and questionable at best (American Pie, Heathers, Porky’s, Superbad). At the end of this decade, Olivia Wilde delivers this decades quintessential teen-comedy with Booksmart. The 2010s has delivered great teen films, such as Easy A, Ladybird, and Love, Simon. Yet, these films never encapsulated an entire generation, instead focusing on specific groups. While Booksmart doesn’t acknowledge EVERY aspect of society, it offers enough for audiences to find something to connect with.
Booksmart follows the story of high school presidents and valedictorian’s Amy and Molly who learn they’ve made a fatal error and decide to cram a high school’s worth of parties into the graduation party. Let the teen hijinks ensue.
Olivia Wilde directs an intelligent, heartfelt and creative directorial debut, making her a name to watch for. She, like many first-time directors gives it everything, giving the film an energy only found in directorial debuts (see Trainspotting, Reservoir Dogs, Mean Streets, Jaws). From dream-like, dance sequences, to drug trips involving Barbies and cinematography usually seen in a Michael Mann film, Booksmart bucks the tropes of typical teen-comedy films.
While Wilde brings the creative energy, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are the heart and soul of the film. They play off like old friends; they rib each other, they fight and yet they will always stand with each other. They, and the rest of the high school cast, are what make the film relevant and an instant classic. The 80s stereotypes of the Princess, Jock, Nerd, Rebel and Weirdo are no longer relevant in the 21st century. Everyone blends aspects of these caricatures; the nerds are likeable and not targeted by some ‘meany, bully’; the Princesses are now the weirdos and are more sympathetic than enviable; the Jock is considerate and charming, the weirdo is given depth and reason to their desperate attempts at popularity, and so on and so on. The characters aren’t just likeable and unique, they are complex and relatable.
Booksmart stands out in the teen genre, by having a female focus and vision; 1 female director, 2 female leads, and 4 female writers. Where the teen film would usually focus on the sexual conquest of a male lead, Booksmart prioritises female friendship and unification. It’s no accident that the 2 leads’ heroes are inspirational women (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Michelle Obama; the friends even utter the name of Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai as a ‘veto’). Wilde offers women who don’t meet body image expectations; who are sexually confident or are inexperienced; victims of slut-shaming; and older women who are treated as beautiful and sexually active people. Wilde’s (and the film’s statement) is that female friendships are key to confronting patriarchal dominance.
Even though the film is thoughtful, there are still laughs a plenty; Billie Lourd crushes as privileged Gigi who bursts into every scene like a cartoon character on crack, in the best way possible; an interrogation backfires in a tense encounter with hilarious payoffs; and the repurposing of of a childhood stuffed animal is awkwardly funny.
Olivia Wilde delivers the most creative, original and entertaining film of the year. She didn’t need a purple dude and some rocks; just two friends, some laughs and one hell of a night in a film John Hughes would be proud of.