BOOKSMART, US, 2019. Starring Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Mason Gooding, Directed by Olivia Wilde. 102 minutes. Rated MA (Strong crude sexual humour and coarse language).
Depending on your age and your response to teenage comedies, high school comedies, your reaction might be “great, another one” or a groaning “oh no!”.
For many older audiences, the response might be the latter.
However, Booksmart turns out to be somewhat different (what a relief!).
The action takes place over a period of about 24 hours, the day and night before high school graduation. We are introduced to two of the students, friends for years, Molly (Beanie Feldstein, sister of Jonah Hill, and it might be very enjoyable to see them together in a film) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). Molly is always very much in charge, Amy in support. It emerges that they have loved study, that they actually are book-smart, have plans for their future, but tend to be ridiculed by fellow students. There is a particularly awkward scene where Molly is in the toilet and overhears a group mocking her, carving her up. (And, woe of woes, all the students, despite slacker attitudes and behaviour, already have places in prestige colleges.)
The crisis for the night is that the two girls realise that they have been all work and no play, that they have missed out on socialising. So, they plan to go to a party (but don’t have the address and are reliant on getting it from a pizza house with their deliveries – the manager who reprimands them for their behaviour later gets his comeuppance in a most unexpected way).
In comparison with so many of the parties in the raucous comedies, this is a somewhat quiet and better-behaved affair. However, Molly who has a crush on her rather playboy student VP student becomes disillusioned with him. Amy, who has come out as lesbian, has a crush on one of the students who disillusions her. Surprisingly, this leads to a rather strong scene where Molly and Amy have a very public fight, a shouting match and denunciations in front of everyone.
So, how will graduation day turnout? Awkwardly, at least at the start, because Amy has taken the initiative to draw off the police who raid the party enabling everyone else to escape but her finishing up in jail. Molly comes to rescue her, mutual apologies – and hurrying on to the graduation.
The film is carried by the performances of the two young women. It is something of a relief to see a film which indicates that there is more to school and college years than drinking, drugs, sex, wasting opportunities. Somebody remarked that this is the kind of film that parents prefer to watch and may prefer their children to watch.
Universal Released July 11th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.