Booksmart (Olivia Wilde) 3½ out of 4 stars.
Among the line of popular coming of age stories that have been circulating through our cinemas over the last few years, Booksmart stands out for its playfully raunchy approach of redefining what it means to be a teenager. Following two school-obsessed best friends about to graduate and their quick descent into the party world of their peers over one night, this film is an undeniably fresh entry into the two lead’s oeuvres and proves Olivia Wilde to be more than competent behind the camera.
What makes Booksmart so smart is that it goes beyond the archetypal divisions of adolescent identity and fully understands that the perceptions that once defined who was and wasn’t a “nerd” has completely evolved. This adds something new to the formula of coming of age films, while never becoming so modern that it alienates itself. Instead, it so wisely recognizes the specifically Gen Z attitudes toward balancing both an insane social life and an equally insane school schedule. The way that this works best within the confines of the film, however, is its staunch compassion for its characters. The filmmakers hold no ounce of judgment for any of these teens, examining their actions and antics purely through a lens of love.
This film seems to be successfully operating on multiple levels. Impeccably paced, every beat is devoted to moving the story along, all with a booming and fun soundtrack that adds energy to every frame. While some specific gag scenes may run a minute too long, Wilde deftly knows how to reel the humor back in before it meanders too far. The lead actors, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, operate with an air of ease and heightened energy that is ever-watchable and recognizable for anyone who has had a best friend.
Whenever people talk about coming of age stories, they like to talk about how they are doing something new or completely different than any that came before. Like many films before it, Booksmart, tackles the very common ideas of teenage identity and the machine of teenage party life. Unlike many films before it, Booksmart, fuses this classic genre with an atypical fusion of fun vulgarity and femininity, a style that is becoming more and more common as more women fill roles in front of and behind the camera. What stands out most about Booksmart, however, is that it manages to look at teenage life with a certain relatability and sympathy that will surely remind most of us of the stress, antics, and friendships of our own high school years.