I don’t tend to write movie reviews and in a way this won’t be a movie review at all, but rather a breakdown of why you absolutely need to go see Booksmart right this second. I’m serious. Go ahead and save this tab for later, watch the movie, and then comment below on how my analysis is spot on. Booksmart is exactly what it promised to be: a smart, funny, honest coming-of-age story that breaks the mold of high school melodrama in the most organic way I’ve ever witnessed. I won’t deny that the film definitely used some of the tropes of the genre; the difference is it took those tropes and made them into something more.
There’s really three factors that had the largest impact on the success Booksmart managed: stunning direction by debut director Olivia Wilde, a groundbreaking screenplay by writing team Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman, and an awe-inspiring cast led by breakout stars Kaitlyn Dever (Amy) and Beanie Feldstien (Molly). Backed by executive producers Will Ferrel and Adam McKay, who have been co-producing content since 2007’s launch of “Funny or Die”, it shouldn’t have been surprising how amazing Booksmart is. So without further ado, here is our in-depth analysis of what made Booksmart the breakout comedy of the year.
3. Olivia Wilde Proves Her Directing Chops
Is there anything Olivia Wilde can’t do? With Booksmart, the answer continues to be no. Wilde’s visionary direction is essential to what makes Booksmart so special. There’s three scenes in particular that really highlight Wilde’s directorial influence and are largely responsible for shattering the mold of high school coming of age stories.
The first scene that really showcases Wilde’s skills is the second scene between Jason Sudeikis’ Prinicpal Jordan Brown and our two protagonists. The scene is a timely comment on awkward relationships between adults and high school graduates and an honest take on teenage sexuality. I don’t want to spoil what happens, because in a film filled to the brim with hilarious scenes, this particular scene is peak cringe in the best way possible.
The second scene is perhaps one of the films most unexpected moments, which is really saying something in a movie that is a wild ride of unexpected moments. After arriving to the party of that will change everything, one of our protagonists spies her crush from across the room and the scene that transpires next is embodiment of what its like to be figuratively swept-off your feet in a puberty-fueled bad-for-you crush. The moment is beautifully choreographed, hilariously unexpected, and bizarrely heartwarming.
Finally, the last scene I want to talk about in relation to Wilde’s direction is a well-worn trope of, well, literally everything. The two best friends that have a seemingly perfect, respectful, unbreakable bond have a huge fight; like when does that not happen in a movie? Most times the fight serves only to build some tension and to reach the climax of the film, but Wilde’s direction of the scene takes the trope and recreates it into something wholly original. I don’t think this is a spoiler, but there’s a moment when the audio goes silent and our two best friends are seen yelling at each other with brilliant camerawork and lighting framing them in a tense, intimate way that makes us feel like we’re breaking up along with them. Add to that scene the background actors, the final product is a slow-burning honest fight that culminates not in an explosion of anger but in the smoldering remains of a fire that is nearly extinguished.
2. Timely Screenplay Steeped In Comedy Gold
The final screenplay we see play out in Booksmart is quite different than the original draft Halpern and Hashkins circulated a decade ago, but the evolution from their original idea of two girls trying to find dates for the prom to what Booksmart is is like evolving a Magikarp into a Gyrados.
The thing that works so well about Booksmart is how honest it is; from the sex scene to the fight scene, from first time viewing porn to awkward Lyft rides (yes, the movie uses Lyft). The script goes from one funny moment to the next and while some of the moments are quite out there, none of them are unrealistic. That is quite the accomplishment in a comedy of any kind, especially a coming of age high school story.
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Furthermore, the dialogue is some of the best comedy writing out there. I can’t recall a single joke that didn’t land or any situational comedy that didn’t garner a reaction. I’m sure it had its moment where the comedy didn’t quite fit, but none of it was glaring or detracting from the experience. The screenplay is heartfelt, authentic, and, overall, really, really funny.
1. Hilarious Ensemble Cast Led By Two Breakout Stars
Let me start this section off by saying this: there isn’t a single actor in this film who doesn’t create a memorable, authentic character. Even actors with little screentime, specifically Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte who play Amy’s parents, manage to craft believable characters that have seemingly real relationships with our main characters. Most notably among our background actors, however, are Jason Sudeikis, Mike O’Brien and Billie Lourde.
As mentioned above, Sudeikis plays Principal Jordan Brown and his character was one of my favorite in the whole film despite only appearing in two and a half scenes (his last appearance in the film is more of, well, an appearance). His cringe-worthy chemistry with Dever and Feldstein delivers a purely fun scene that could easily stand on its own as a short film. Similarly, Mike O’Brien’s Pat the Pizza guy provides a fantastic scene that would make total sense and deliver laughs if it were viewed as short film, yet, it also informs the rest of the film and is essential to some payoffs later in the film. Finally, Billie Lourde plays the least realistic character in the film, an off-the-wall-must-be-on-drugs-threatens-to-kill-several-people-Looney-Tune, yet she plays that character better than probably anyone else could possibly play. There’s no reason to believe Lourde’s character, Gigi, could exist in real-life (and there’s quite a few tongue-in-cheek references throughout the film at the absurdity of her character) but Lourde pulls it off and makes on wonder “Why is Gigi?”
There’s no way to talk about the cast of Booksmart without commenting on Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. Relative newcomers to the world of film, Dever and Feldsteind might not have been obvious choices to lead the film, but their chemistry together and their comedic prowess quickly throw out any idea that they weren’t perfect for this film. The thing I love most about their characters is they aren’t completely lovable. The audience is meant to be completely sympathetic of the protagonists the whole time. Dever fully delivers on a compelling character ark and her interactions with every single character are golden. Feldstein has less of an ark, but she is responsible for some of the best moments in the film. Despite a great ensemble cast, what really drives this film is Dever and Feldstein and the moments of perfect are reached when its just the two of them.
Booksmart is near perfection and its a shame more people aren’t seeing it, hopefully this article has helped you make up your mind that you absolutely need to go see it right now.
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