Film Review: Booksmart

Frances Winston reviews this unusual coming of age film, directed by Olivia Wilde

Directed by: Olivia Wilde –  Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Billie Lourd

It’s time for all the ‘coming of age’ movies to hit cinemas now that school is out for the summer. Much like the rom-com, these are a tried and tested cinema staple that generally don’t veer too far off-format. However, this offering does mess with the status quo somewhat.

Instead of looking for someone to take them to prom, as is the usual in these flicks, the two intrepid lead characters, Amy and Molly, discover that they’ve done high school all wrong, concentrating on studying and never letting their hair down. Realising that they only have one night to rectify this before graduation, they decide to attend a classmates hugely hyped party. So far so straightforward.

Except that they don’t know his address, and in their attempts to make it to the soirée, they have all manner of adventures and revelations. The fact that one of the protagonists is an openly-out lesbian also adds another element to Booksmart. It is only in the past few years that we have started seeing realistic portrayals of LGBTQ teens in movies like this, and long may it continue.

The leads, Dever and Feldstein, have a fantastic chemistry and brilliant comedic timing. They manage to find all the little nuances in the script, and you would really believe they had been friends since childhood, as they manage to convey the underlying love between them even when bickering. Most of the actors resist going too OTT, except Lourd, who completely hams it up as a spoiled socialite type. I hate to say she is the one weak link in an otherwise outstanding cast.

At the screening I attended, many people were surprised to see Wilde’s name flash up as director, and I heard nothing but positive reactions to her efforts. And Booksmart is indeed a very impressive directorial debut. Wilde has managed to give a fresh and fast-paced take on a classic genre, while also retaining all the heart and awkwardness that makes these movies so successful.

Although Booksmart maintains some elements of the coming of age flick, it really does feel like she has put a new spin on it. She has paced the film well, and manages to build to the crescendo of the emotional finale without ever getting too schmaltzy.

You don’t have to be a teenager to appreciate Booksmart. Everyone will relate to different elements of the story. This is extremely refreshing, great fun and totally feel-good. You will leave the cinema with a smile your face and, unlike many of these movies, Booksmart possibly merits a second viewing down the line. It bodes very well for Wilde’s future directorial efforts.

In Cinemas Now!

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