Directed by Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde’s compelling directorial debut is Gen-Z’s answer to Superbad; a comparison which is eerily fitting when you consider the film’s genetic connection to Superbad’s Jonah Hill (Beanie Feldstien is his younger sister). Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstien) have invested all of their time and energy during highschool pursuing the holy grail: places at the distinguished college of their dreams. However, the pursuit of academic excellence has come at a cost - they have become social pariahs; too mature and blinkered to arouse sympathy from their peers, who are more interested in the hedonistic pleasures of screwing and partying. On the final day of school, the illusion of their superiority is shattered when they realise that their fellow slackers have gotten into the very same prestigious colleges; only without expending half the effort. Thrown into an existential impasse the girls decide to embark on a mission to make up for lost time and let loose by attending the end of year bash; a belated chance to indulge in all the desires they have put on the back-burner.
Superbad left a dick-sized crater in American teen culture when it introduced us to Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg’s horny, adolescent alter-egos back in 2007. Part of Superbad’s meteoric triumph was down to the way in which it modernised the discourses which were circulated by raunchy films of the late nineties and early noughties about the teenage experience: the most popular being that of the American Pie franchise, which had its hapless characters attempt to scale the “pussy pedestal” and lose their virginity. Superbad was about that too - to a certain degree - however, it was more about the journey itself, as the naive heroes attempt to navigate a dark, adult world. Booksmart is another inversion and re-invention of the genre; Wilde’s picture is about exploring, reflecting on, and breaking through the teenage illusions which have led our protagonists’ to their alienation and dissatisfaction. The two swats must cast off their haughtiness and misconceptions to decode a world they have kept at arm’s length with a perpetual sneer; a self-fulfilling tonic for their estrangement.
Driven by two enigmatic and savvy performances by Dever and Feldstein, the film moves at a catatonic pace; stoked by a bombastic soundtrack ripped from your teenage daughter’s Spotify playlist. Their faultless chemistry is intensified by the endless laughs which emanate from the witty and astute screenplay (Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, all have writing credits). By leaning on the strength of these two factors, Wilde is able to offer an inversion of the “mean girls” narrative, where she substitutes tits and teeth for mental supremacy, for all of Amy and Molly’s dorkiness, they are extremely judgmental and influenced by unfounded pretensions which inadvertently hurt other people’s feelings and draw contempt - and rightfully so. However, because these pretensions emanate from a place of insecurity, that we all can all identify with, we root for them to overcome them, so we can watch the wallflowers bloom.