Overachieving, refreshingly confident teen duo Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) find four years of academic toil and steady planning isn’t working out to their liking, and cut loose in a fairytale of one long night of misconduct and mischief. “Booksmart,” the brisk, raunchy, laugh-out-loud directorial debut of Olivia Wilde (from a screenplay by Katie Silberman, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, and Susanna Fogel, based on a 2009 Blacklist-lauded script by Halpern and Haskins) is funny, unapologetic, intermittently profane and rich in writing, staging and performance. Comparisons made to “Superbad,” featuring Feldstein’s older brother Jonah Hill, aren’t out of line. “Booksmart”’s lightly cynical humor leans feminist and farcical. (Plus, bullying and cruelty don’t motor the movie.) Coming-of-age tales, especially movies with teenagers in American high schools, share familiar elements, but Wilde and her writers and, especially Dever and Feldstein, find moments—in fact, moment after moment of comic inspiration or insight into a brief instant of the characters’ lives. They’re present: the pair move from type, veer away from archetype and wind up at comic specificity. (Billie Lourd sells the surrealism in her epic line readings: no one but Carrie Fisher’s daughter could sell these words this way: “I lost my virginity in what I thought was a park, but it turned out to be a graveyard, and now the ghost spirits live inside my eggs waiting to be reborn.”)
Notably, Wilde cites as key inspirations “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Training Day” and “Lethal Weapon.” Good buddy movies resound: this is one of them. With Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Molly Gordon, Skyler Gisondo, Noah Galvin, Diana Silvers, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga, Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte. 102m. ( Ray Pride)
“Booksmart” is now playing.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.