Film Review: “Booksmart” Offers Enjoyable Laugh Lessons

Film poster: “Booksmart”

Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.

There is much to like and admire in actress Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut, Booksmart. For starters, there are her two lead actresses, Kaitlyn Dever (All Summers End) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird), who play besties Amy and Molly, two academic superstars who discover, on the penultimate day of high school, that their ostensible slacker classmates have all gotten into the same competitive type of colleges as have they. Dever and Feldstein bring terrific charisma and blossoming sense of self to the roles, perfectly encapsulating both teen angst and overconfidence. Then there’s the script, which gives full prominence to its female protagonists in a way much more often allowed only to men, gross-out humor included. Finally, there’s the sex-positive message of the movie, including the matter-of-fact presentation of Amy’s lesbianism, that makes of the entire package a delightful reinvention of the coming-of-age comedy.

Unfortunately, while those are just some of the many pros, the big con, for me, is the film’s uneven pacing, which too often undercuts the buildup of jokes and delivery of punchlines. But take heart, for as one member of the press agency that arranges the preview screenings I attend mentioned on my way out, the movie reminded her a lot of Superbad, so if you liked that 2007 boy-centered film, chances are the rhythm of this one will bother you less than it did me (I had the same problems with it). Your funny-bone mileage may vary, in other words. However you feel about the gags (and I loved some while reacting with a “meh” to others), the overall vibe of Booksmart is so pleasantly loving that it’s hard to remain upset for long. Yes, it could have been better, but I had a good enough time to warrant a thumbs up.

Beanie Feldstein stars as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, BOOKSMART, an Annapurna Pictures release.
Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

Beyond Dever and Feldstein, there’s a wonderful supporting cast that includes Will Forte (Nebraska), Lisa Kudrow (Table 19), Jason Sudeikis (Sleeping with Other People), Jessica Williams (The Incredible Jessica James) and a large array of younger actors, perhaps my favorite among them Billie Lourd (Chanel #3 on Fox’s Scream Queens) as Gigi, a seemingly spaced-out young woman who pops up at every party our protagonists attend in their desperate attempt to make up for lost time. For that’s Amy and Molly’s solution to a lifetime spent doing the right thing: in one night, go wild. What could go wrong? Well, despite Booksmart’s occasional missteps, much goes right. Nerds rule. Or was the message that you can goof off and still succeed? I can’t remember. But I had a nice laugh.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Associate Editor and film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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