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FILM | REVIEW

Not Another Teen Movie Goody-two-shoes go bad in Olivia Wilde’s wickedly funny Booksmart BY NATHAN WEINBENDER

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Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever break bad in Booksmart.

’m going to describe the basic details of They’ve spent every waking moment Booksmart, and it’ll sound like a hundred together since they were much younger, other movies you’ve seen before. But I confiding their deepest secrets to each promise you — it isn’t. other — like how Molly is nursing a crush It’s about two high school girls who, as on her meatheaded VP (Mason Gooding, the end of senior year approaches and the son of Cuba). Or how Amy is ga-ga for great unknown of adulthood looms, sudthe tomboy (Victoria Ruesga) who always denly realize they haven’t behaved badly seems to be skateboarding through the enough, and that all their classmates think school courtyard in slo-mo. They’re both they’re buzzkills. And they are, to an extent. too sheepish to make a move, but then So they spend the evening before graduaMolly has a disturbing revelation: All the tion trying to track down the craziest party class losers are also going to Ivy League in town, intending to go out in a colleges despite havfinal blaze of booze-fueled glory. ing coasted through BOOKSMART Easier said than done. high school. Even Rated R Yes, this is a one-crazy-night Directed by Olivia Wilde the burnout who movie, a last-day-of-school mov- Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie failed seventh grade ie, a good-kids-gone-bad movie. Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Jason Sudeikis twice has secured a But like Fast Times at Ridgemont six-figure coding job High and Clueless and Mean Girls at Google. This big before it, it’s wickedly funny and intelligent party is their salvation, then, and both of in spite of its conventions. It’s also carrying their crushes will be there. the torch of all those raunchy ’80s comedies Much of the comedy in Booksmart is that used to run in the early morning on borne out of Amy’s and Molly’s complete Comedy Central, and yet it’s scrubbed free incompetence when it comes to breaking of the cynicism and troubling sexual politics the rules. They have fake college IDs, sure, that define many of its forebears. but they’re for sneaking into the univerIt also helps that its two protagonists sity’s all-night library. When they hold a feel like real, relatable 17-year-olds. Molly pizza guy at (fake) gunpoint, he lectures (Beanie Feldstein from Lady Bird) is the them about how reckless they’re being by overachieving, Yale-bound class president getting into a car with a strange man. And who’s still trying to get policies enacted on they can’t even order a getaway Lyft withthe last day of school, when even the princiout the driver being a grown-up they know. pal (Jason Sudeikis) has checked out. Amy This premise is most immediately (Kaitlyn Dever), her best friend, is more reminiscent (perhaps not coincidentally) of reserved but no less conscientious, planning Superbad, which starred Feldstein’s brother to spend her summer vacation in Botswana Jonah Hill. It also contains fantasy sequencdoing charity work. es and moments of heightened reality that

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recall the cult classic Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, whose star, Lisa Kudrow, pops up here as Amy’s mom. But what separates Booksmart from so many other, similar films is its terrific ensemble cast, many of whom are unknowns. Each of the supporting characters feels like a specific comic creation, from the try-hard rich kid (Skyler Gisondo) who nobody likes, to the hip teacher (Jessica Williams) who might be a little too close to her students, to the overeager theater kids (Noah Galvin and Austin Crute) whose murdermystery party is way too Method, to the class eccentric (Billie Lourd) who seems to exist on another plane of reality entirely. Booksmart is the feature directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, and her background helming music videos comes through. We get some surprisingly evocative visual moments (credit to cinematographer Jason McCormick), including a heartbreaking realization that happens wordlessly beneath the surface of a swimming pool, a potentially friendship-ending argument that unfolds in a single take and a bizarre drug-trip sequence employing stopmotion animation. But for all that style and flash, not to mention its semi-ironic soundtrack of hiphop bangers, what Booksmart gets absolutely right is that adolescence is little more than a series of small humiliations. It might exist in the fantasy land of teen moviedom, but the characters — their relationships, their desires, their disappointments — feel totally authentic, and the film seems to genuinely love them. And that’s what matters. n

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