On the surface, Olivia Wilde's directorial debut Booksmart exists someplace between Harold & Kumar, Dazed and Confused and comedian Bo Burnham's stellar Eighth Grade. But on a deeper level, it examines friendships, modern teenaged interpersonal politics and sexuality, and a bevy of other issues with humor, sensitivity and wit. Think of Booksmart like Superbad, only with better leads, a well-done feminist angle and smarter writing.
Best friends Molly (Ladybird's Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, Last Man Standing) have reached the final day of high school, but the previous four years spent forsaking social lives in the service of good grades and college admissions seem misspent when they learn the apparent slackers of their graduating class are also attending Ivies. Molly hatches a plan: one wild night to prove they could have done both before they leave high school forever having never partied.
A seemingly Sisyphean journey follows, from the ill-attended yacht party thrown by that one dweeb no one likes (a surprisingly poignant Skyler Gisondo of 2015's Vacation) to the drama kids' absurd murder mystery gathering; from the principal's weekend Lyft driver status to the mysteriously disappearing and reappearing weirdo (a gloriously melodramatic Billie Lourd). No matter the stakes, though, Molly and Amy remain steadfast in their mutual support, a wonderful but never overwrought premise that eschews the tired cinematic pitfall of competitive women while leaving room for drama and growth. Said growth is admittedly minimal, and there's an accelerated rate at which conflict is resolved, but these characters learn and evolve readily rather than simply progress by circumstance; the redemptions may be small or feel inconsequential but, for teens, they're downright monumental.
Booksmart is hilarious when it wants to be and clever when it needs, striking a balance between the understanding that high school was somehow the worst time of our lives, but we miss it for its simplicity. Add points for Feldstein and Dever's effortless chemistry—the film is at its best when it's simply them riffing—and for queer representation alongside a few worthwhile bit performances from Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow and Jessica Williams. Add a few more for Dan the Automator's hype-ass soundtrack. Subtract a few for a shoddy resolution which plays out too quickly, but then relax a little because it's ultimately a ridiculous high school comedy that still winds up being clever and, in many ways, a step in the right direction.
+Feldstein and Dever; smarter than you'd think
-Ending feels rushed; some tacked-on scenes
Directed by Wilde
With Feldstein and Dever
Violet Crown, Regal 14, R, 102 min.