The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BOOKSMART | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - BOOKSMART

booksmart review
Having spent their school life buried in books, a pair of teens let their hair down on the night before graduation.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Olivia Wilde

Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte

booksmart review


As its title might suggest, Booksmart concerns a pair of high schoolers - Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) - who have spent their school lives with their heads buried in books while missing out on the fun side of being a teenager, squandering the last time in their lives when they'll have a licence to misbehave. As committed liberals, they both have admirable plans to put their knowledge towards helping those in need. Amy has arranged to spend her gap year in Botswana, helping women make tampons, while Molly has ambitions of becoming the youngest ever Supreme Court judge. Yet at the same time, they have a snobbish, condescending attitude to their schoolmates, whom they consider intellectually inferior because they don't share their heady obsessions, or at least wear them on their sleeves. They would probably call them 'Deplorables'.

There's a central joke to Booksmart, and it's laid out succinctly in an early scene. Molly finds herself in a bathroom stall listening to a group of her classmates discuss what a Debbie Downer she is. One boy claims he might make out with her, but only if he could "put a bag over her personality." Molly storms out and confronts her peers, using her acceptance to Yale - which she has kept a secret out of respect for those who she believes aren't as fortunate - as a stick to beat them with. This backfires when her taunters reveal that they too have been accepted to Ivy League colleges, save for one pupil who has already been offered a position with Google ("It's not Apple, but it's mid six figures," he shrugs).

booksmart review

Realising they've missed out on the simple pleasures of 'the best years of their lives' by committing to a life of intense, monastic study while their classmates partied their schooldays away, Molly and Amy decide to make up for lost time by partying away the last night before their graduation ceremony. This plays out as a teen riff on movies like John Landis's Into the Night and Martin Scorsese's After Hours, in which uptight nerds find themselves on a nocturnal journey through a chaotic world they've been previously oblivious to. In this case it sees the protagonists move from one party to another, learning gradually more about how they've misjudged their fellow classmates as the night progresses.

It's an intriguing setup, but despite the contributions of no less than four screenwriters, the film struggles to find anything novel or interesting for Amy and Molly to come up against. Most of the humour comes courtesy of a narrow view of liberal millenials and their perceived obsession with 'safe spaces' and what was once disparaged as 'political correctness'. Practically everyone Amy and Molly encounters is a Fox News stereotype of a California progressive. There are no less than three scenes in which the pair find themselves in the back seat of a car driven by a male who signals his virtue regarding his feminist views, and everyone they meet is unfeasibly friendly and polite towards the girls, who have spent the last five years lording their superiority complex over them. It's like The Warriors, if every gang The Warriors encountered complimented their leather waistcoats rather than picking a fight with them.

booksmart review

It's been a good few years for female led teen comedies, and arriving in the slipstream of the likes of superior examples of the form doesn't do Booksmart any favours. It has none of the wit of The DUFF, none of the melancholy of The Edge of Seventeen, and none of the complexity of Lady Bird. Teen comedies often rely on repeating and reconfiguring a set of established tropes, but Booksmart's clichΓ©s simply feel like the result of a screenwriting checklist. Disastrous first sexual encounter? Check. Fantasy sequence in which a nerd imagines gaining the amorous attention of an unattainable love interest? Check. Wacky drug trip hallucination? Check. White nerds moving in slo-mo while expletive riddled hip hop plays? Check. The movie's most genuine moment ironically appears to be an out-take in which the actors present are clearly suppressing laughter, a little accident that elevates the humanity of the moment.

Considering how politically minded its young protagonists are, with their 'Warren 2020' bumper stickers and 'Free Palestine' bedroom posters, the movie itself is almost aggressively apolitical in its message that kids should loosen up and enjoy themselves rather than try to change the world - quite a stance in 2019! Even Amy and Molly seem to forget their ideals, as in the scene where they order an Uber which turns out to be driven by their school principal (Jason Sudeikis). Rather than examining why someone charged with overseeing the education of hundreds of teenagers is forced to work a second job, the scene simply focusses on the awkwardness of the encounter, Amy and Molly selfishly sinking into their seats rather than getting angry with the injustice of the scenario. By the movie's end we're left wondering about those women in Botswana, and who might help make their tampons now.

booksmart review

Any positives to be found in Booksmart are courtesy of an immaculately assembled supporting cast. Austin Crute and Noah Galvin are hilariously flamboyant as a pair of drama society queens. Billie Lourd, channelling the comic energy of her mother, Carrie Fisher, as a sociopathic, permanently wasted prom queen, and Skyler Gisondo as a rich geek who desperately wants people to look past his wealth and accept him for the nice guy he really is, steal the show whenever they pop up, and you may well wish the film had spent the night following their exploits rather than those of the dull protagonists.

Booksmart is in UK/ROI cinemas now.


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