I’m a nerd. I know a lot of nerds. In my nerdiest of nerd fantasies I couldn’t touch the nerdy-nerdieness of the two nerds in this film. I love them. How can we tell they’re nerds? They’re super smart, one drives a Volvo with nerdy bumper stickers like NPR and Warren 2020, they greet each other with nerdy dance moves, and they’re abused and disdained by other students, including the theater nerds, and even the principal of the school.
The director, Olivia Wilde, establishes a deep connection between the two main characters, Molly and Amy, within a couple of minutes of the beginning of the film without a lot of exposition or awkward scenes. This is her freshman movie, and I can’t wait to see what else she comes up with over the years. She’s also a seasoned actress, playing in a bunch of tv shows and movies that I’ve not seen, so I didn’t recognize her name. What she has done with Booksmart is surround herself with great talent, from the writer to lighting design to cinematography and especially the actors. Wilde hired a professional skateboarder to play one of the main supporting characters and the woman is perfect. She also pays attention to detail, like knowing Kaitlyn Dever (Amy) plays the dulcimer (nerdiest of instruments) and sings, so that made it into the movie in a wonderful moment that says a lot about the character and her relationship to Molly (Beanie Feldstein). She says the movie is, “A story about people learning to see each other.”
This is apparent from the first few minutes when Molly and Amy walk into the high school on the last day of senior year and are the only two students not partying in the halls, to the point of being invisible. They’re okay with that, as they are life-long best friends. Like, massively best friends who hide nothing from each other. They think. Amy is gay and Molly not only doesn’t care but talks sex with her and teases Amy’s clueless parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) about the “true nature” of their relationship. Even though they are the bestiest of besties, they discover they don’t know each other – or themselves – as well as they think.
I loved how much Amy is teased by Molly about her gayness, but in a manner that is more poking fun at her shy demeanor than her sexuality. Some of the funniest lines of dialogue revolve around Amy’s sexuality, and there are a lot of funny lines in the film. It feels a little relentlessly funny sometimes in a range of situational and character driven humor. That’s great writing. I was bothered some, after reflecting on the film for a few hours, on how in a shared sort of sexual situation with Molly, Amy became suddenly more open and brazen. Yes, it’s hilarious because she’s the shy one, and yes, she’s studiously ogling a female body and why is it always the gay one who is depicted as more sexual? But dammit, I laughed and laughed and I’m still conflicted about it. She’s the perfect foil for those particular sexualized jokes because of her shy and queer nature, and the situation makes her gay ogling bizarrely hilarious. I think I’ll just get over it.
I never did get over how bizarre the film is. The trailer doesn’t begin to explain how deeply bizarre Booksmart is, almost like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle meets Supernerd, on acid. There is an odyssey, a series of vignettes designed to aid their night of self-discovery, with a supporting cast of stereotypes that are so perfectly written and beautifully played by the actors that you’ll want to see a movie about every one of them as well. And the magical Gigi, who I loved more than I can say. There’s a lot of honesty in Booksmart covering all the bases of life on the edge of adulthood, including a realistically awkward sex scene that had me nodding my head. Oh yeah, I remember that moment, even into my elder years.
The director did a lot of things to craft a gorgeous film, like a meeting of characters in a dark closet lit only by a single weak red light bulb that glowed only on the characters’ faces. It put me in mind of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons with only eyeballs visible to carry the scene. The jump scare is perfect. There is one callback late in the movie to an earlier scene that tore me to pieces with laughter. The precipitating event and later denouement were terribly difficult to watch, because the director and actors give the viewer every bit of the hurt the characters are feeling in the moment.
There is a lot to love about Booksmart, so I hope you take a chance to see it if you haven’t already. It should rank in the top echelon of teen coming of age movies, because it’s heartfelt, hilarious and bizarre, and beautifully crafted by every person who made the movie.
OVERALL: As I wrote last week, Monday With Mildred + 241 Teaser: “Booksmart”, Mildred texted me and told me to see this movie! Then she sent a glowing review – see above – and I settled down to watch this movie with my hubby.
Mildred was absolutely right.
It was beautiful, wonderful, and heart moving in ways many movies are not. I have friends I have loved like the two heroines, Amy and Molly, and it all rang true.
I’m so glad the movie didn’t devolve into rudeness and sadness. I’m so glad our smart girls were still smart and wonderful at the end. I’m so glad others were smart too. This isn’t a movie about one type of person succeeding over another. It was about enjoying being you.
Everyone, go see this movie. And director Olivia Wilde, WELL DONE!!! Now go make another movie.
Malala! See the movie and you will understand.
POINTS: This movie totally shows young women interested in their own futures and lives and not focused entirely on men or romance. I loved that a straight and lesbian woman were best friends. I loved that they loved each other. I loved that the tropes of high school being filled with horrible people was not true. This was true.
My husband has always remarked that the people I went to high school with were nice and good people. I pretty much like them all and they are filled with kindness and joy when we have our reunions. I liked that I could see the kindness in the teenage characters. All of them. Well done.
PITFALLS: Hmmm….. Can’t think of any.
FEMALE CHARACTER(S): Obviously. This is a best friend movie about Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who have that deep friendship love that goes beyond description. They talk through the entire movie about so many wonderful things. There were many other cool women and men too, making the movie even better.
CULTURAL PITFALL(S): This movie was self-aware like its heroines. Could always have more PoC. Still, I give it a thumbs up.
HIGH POINT(S): I usually don’t like big song moments in movies because they seem too influenced by MTV and it makes the movie or show feel like a music video. Not here. The music was big and powerful and sweeping. It propelled the story and moved the emotional state of the movie. So well done.
Finally, my heart was so moved for at one point Molly cries out because she is skinny and longs for her “chub.” I would have loved this movie that for alone.
BECHDEL TEST (Website): 3 of 3.
RACIAL BECHDEL TEST (Website): 3 of 3. Oh wow. I like it.
IMDB: Booksmart (2019).
OFFICIAL MOVIE WEBSITE: Booksmart – Official Website
DVD/BLU-RAY WORTHY: Yes.
LION PAW PRINTS: 3.5 of 5. It was wonderful
Booksmart Trailer #1 (2019) | Movieclips Trailers
See other fun trailers and clips here: Monday With Mildred + 241 Teaser: “Booksmart”.