Olivia Wilde’s Directorial Debut Is Phenomenal, As She Creates One Of The Funniest & Best Films Of The Year. Stars Kaitlyn Dever & Beanie Edelstein Giving Hilarious, Charming & Breakout Performances In “Booksmart”.
Within the last decade or so we have seen some of the best high school and coming of age movies since John Hughes defined the genre long ago in the 80s. The newest entry into the genre is “Booksmart”, the brilliant and damn near perfect directorial debut from actress Olivia Wilde (“The Change-Up”, “Cowboys & Aliens”).
Indeed, it’s an impressive feature directing debut by Wilde. With one of the sharpest and funniest screenplays of the year, courtesy of Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman, with absolutely winning lead performances by Kaitlyn Dever (Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing”) and Beanie Feldstein (“Neighbors 2”). “Booksmart” lives up to the promise that it is one of the years best films, by consistently delivering big laughs, sharp insights and dialogue, a superb direction and breakout lead performances.
While “Booksmart” has certain elements that are reminiscent of high school movies from “Risky Business” to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to “Superbad”. Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart” expertly presents familiar characters and situations in a fresh and original manner in every scene.
Beanie Feldstein is the super out-going Molly, who owns every room she enters with her larger than life personality, and Kaitlyn Dever is her best friend Amy, who’s just as equally funny and smart as Molly but operates in a much quieter low key kind of way. For their four years in high school, Molly and Amy have devoted nearly every waking hour to their studies and packing in extracurricular activities to fill their resumes, and it’s all paid off as Molly is bound for Yale and Amy will be attending Columbia.
Only in their last day of school (the night before graduation) does it occur to both Molly and Amy they might have been able to excel academically, but also be able to allow themselves to have a good time which they voided themselves from their entire school year. That’s no problem as they’ll just pack four years’ worth of partying and letting loose into a single night. What could possibly go right or wrong?
Their night is a medley of offbeat and seriously hilarious comedic vignettes, involving everything from uber hijinks, a bit about a sketchy pizza delivery driver that has a great payoff, to the world’s saddest yacht party to the obligatory hallucinatory drug sequence that ranks as one of the funniest sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are absolute breakouts in their performances. Both actresses instantly make you smile and have a shining presence from the moment Molly exits her home and starts bogeying down the stairs as Amy matches her move for move. Their chemistry is magical, as Feldstein perfectly, fiercely and commandingly delivers a funny presence just as naturally as her brother Jonah Hill. Kaitlyn Dever brilliantly makes a transition to the big screen from her work on tv playing Tim Allen’s daughter on his sitcom “Last Man Standing”. Dever delivers a shier, more meticulous and neurotic performance of the two, while still staying funny and being absolutely adorable.
Their buddy chemistry is at the heart of “Booksmart”. Like any relationship there are ups and downs, and there’s a point where we see that closeness between them become toxic, but there’s nothing but love there and that’s obvious from the start. You can also tell both stars had a real blast making this movie.
The female perspective Olivia Wilde presents to us is crucial in bringing a fresh take on an old formula. For once, we get a high school comedy led by a couple of intelligent females and not a bunch of jocks and virgins just looking to get laid. Not to say that getting laid isn’t in the story, it’s just not front and center like most Teen comedies. At least here you won’t find anybody poking an apple pie, well a stuffed panda bear maybe.
“Booksmart” has a lot of sweet and smart moments, keeping a sex positivity in the screenplay. Amy’s choice to be gay is kept respectful and isn’t derogatory to her preference. There’s even a lot to say about women who slut shame other women, and the real emotional harm it can cause someone.
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is just stunning. She showcases a remarkable visual eye and knows when to let the comedic moments breathe, which is smart given how terrific and layered the performances are. She demonstrates a strength for both comedy and visual style, as Wilde keeps the energy moving briskly and supplies an excellent soundtrack of old school hip-hop jams. Wilde is having fun with bold and creative choices. She’s a talented artist making pretty cool choices in her first foray into full-length moviemaking. It’s Hilarious, perceptive, and contemporary, “Booksmart” has the makings of a classic, and will be the start of an amazing directorial career for Olivia Wilde.
There’s no way this year will end without having put “Booksmart” as one of my best of the year list. My hope is that people don’t skip out on it because it deserves to be the breakout indie comedy hit of the summer.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)