Review: Booksmart

Score: A-

Director: Olivia Wilde

Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rated: R

It's pretty rare for a movie to live up to the hype these days, but Booksmart – a whip-smart, hilarious and modern teen comedy – makes the grade.

Beanie Feldstein (already getting a well-deserved starring role after playing the best friend in Lady Bird) and Kaitlyn Dever (another veteran of the incredible Short Term 12) star as Molly and Amy, two straight-A BFFs who use the last night of high school to prove to themselves and their classmates that they can cut loose and party with their peers. But like Superbad before it, getting there – and potentially hooking up with their crushes (Mason Gooding and Victoria Ruesga) – is easier said than done, as plenty of detours and side-quests delay their arrival.

What makes Booksmart so special is how effortlessly modern it feels. It's got a diverse cast and there's a lot more variety in each peer group than the rigid lines of high school comedies past. And even at its most ridiculous, the characters feel like actual people with real motivations. But every single one is hilarious in their own way, getting multiple chances to have the funniest moment in any given scene. It's a testament to the incomparable Allison Jones, a master at choosing actors you've seen before, but not necessarily used to this effect. And it's also a credit to Olivia Wilde, making her directorial debut. She already knows how to get the right emotions out of her actors and how to shoot the scene for maximum impact. Only this movie would have a full-on stop-motion fantasy sequence, in which the girls believe they've transformed into very unrealistic Barbie dolls.

The film also gives its few adult characters – namely, the principal (Jason Sudeikis) and beloved English teacher Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams) – authentic character beats. They're not shy about their low paychecks or loneliness. But the film has such a big heart. Even characters who are mocked for their outsize personalities are never meant to be pathetic. Like everyone else, they're just trying to find an identity and have someone understand them.

Though the year isn't even half over, I don't expect I'll see a comedy as warm, open and thoroughly hilarious as Booksmart. It's at the top of the class.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.