In ‘Booksmart,’ Nerd Girls Get Their Due
Booksmart is one of a wave of female-centric movies and television shows that have marked the landscape this year (Shrill, Pen15, Captain Marvel, Wine Country, etc.). It’s in excellent company, and I think it’s one of the best films to ride that wave.
Booksmart marks the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde. She paces the story very well, with earned laughs and a perfect amount of heart. The film aptly displays the closeness of female friendship and how incredibly important those friendships are, even as the friends change. Molly and Amy are growing up and a little bit apart, but they still love each other. It’s nice to see supportive, realistic female friendships depicted.
It’s also so refreshing to see a film where girls get in trouble but suffer no consequences for it, like a female Superbad, a comparison many have made. I liked this film more than Superbad (which is great!), but it did rely on similar tropes–epic journeys, karaoke, fake IDs, and more. Usually in this kind of film, the girls are the ones stopping the mayhem, or suffering consequences for it. But not this time. Amy even gets out of jail scot-free at one point, thanks in part to a encounter with a pizza-delivery man, in an excellent use of the hilarious Mike O’Brien.
The two nerds at the center of Booksmart are proud of their achievements. Like their classmates, they have fake IDs. However, they got their fake IDs are so they can study at the college library at any time. They’re going to Ivy League schools, and they don’t care that they sacrificed their social lives to get in. Until they discover that most of their classmates are going to stellar schools too, and they partied!
Molly and Amy learn, to their chagrin, that even the partiers are going to Ivies when they break their school’s weird plot device of a rule that no one can share where they are going to college. Allegedly, this is so no one feels bad, but in reality it’s a silly reason to put the story into motion that I will excuse because the rest of the movie is so good.
BOOKSMART ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Olivia Wilde
Written by: Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman
Starring: Kaityln Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudekis, Lisa Kudrow
Running time: 102 min
The girls are incensed because they realize they gave up a ton of fun in favor of Ivy League colleges. They decide to make up for it in one night: they’re going to a party. A classic series of misadventures and mistakes follows, peppered with fun encounters with an omnipresent and out-there Billie Lourd. Of course, they finally get to the party of their dreams.
Booksmart is refreshing because it doesn’t paint the popular kids and the nerds as two separate groups who hate each other. The kids at the party don’t hate Molly or Amy, they just don’t know them very well. Most people are excited to see them, and the girls learn an important lesson. They shouldn’t be quite so quick to judge. Kids are welcoming and happy to see them out. The same kids they condescended to or assumed weren’t worth knowing are in many cases smart and motivated.
The movie also does a nice job showcasing coming of age for queer youth. Amy has her first make-out session. It’s predictably sweet and awkward, and, even better, treated exactly like similar storylines about heterosexual characters. I loved it. I also loved how much the two girls supported each other in all thing. From outfits, to make-outs, to “calling a Malala,” they’re in the friendship for the long haul.
I wish the main characters were more diverse. Some minor characters are, but few get a lot of screen time. The film does make excellent use of several comedy stars and SNL alums, including Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, and Lisa Kudrow. In particular, Jessica Williams and O’Brien excel in their delightful storylines.
I had to remove one star because, in a small side plot, this feminist film used the tired trope of a teacher hooking up with a student. Jessica Williams deserves better, and it’s so unpleasant to see this normalized. Even if the student is of age, there’s still a huge power imbalance that makes it inappropriate.