Booksmart (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Their wild night before graduation

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My high school life was pretty uneventful on the whole. While bullied and ridiculed for my odd personality from time to time, all I cared about was books, movies, and, above all, grades, and having a fun was the last thing to come to my adolescent mind during those years. In the other words, I was your average plain model student far from any kind of transgression except alcohol, which has often been in my blood since, I am not kidding at all, I happened to consume it for the first time at the age of 2.

That is why I usually observe a number of recent entertaining American teenage comedy films with a certain degree of envy and fascination, and “Booksmart”, which is incidentally Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut film, is one of such cases. While amused and fascinated to watch a broad but lively and colorful world of American high schoolers, I also happened to see a lot of myself from its two main adolescent characters, and I certainly came to root and cheer for them a lot around the end of their wild nocturnal adventure.

They are Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy Antsler (Kaitlyn Dever), and the movie opens with how they confidently begin the day before their high school graduation. While Amy will go to Columbia University after spending some time in Botswana, Molly is going to go to Yale University, and they are ready to be busy and diligent as before during this day as your typical adolescent overachievers.

However, there suddenly comes a moment of the shock to the system for both of them. By coincidence, Molly comes to learn that many of students they have disregarded for seeming to be dumb, thoughtless, and superficial will also go to good colleges despite having had lots of fun times during all those years in their high school, and she and Amy come to reflect seriously on how pathetic they have been for spending too much time and effort on being model students bound for better things in the future.

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In the end, Amy and Molly decide to go for all the fun and excitement they can possibly have before their graduation, but they soon face several setbacks. While they manage to go outside together instead of having a celebratory dinner with Amy’s over-generous parents, they must find the address of a place where a certain handsome and popular boy, who is incidentally the vice student president of their school (Molly is the president, by the way), is going to hold a big evening party for every cool kid in the neighborhood.

Of course, things do not go that well for them as Molly and Amy go around here and there for getting the address of that place in question, and the screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman cheerfully and wildly bounces from one comic episode to another along with its two main characters. At first, we get an outrageous part involved with a duo of wild rich kids, and then there is an unexpected scene where Amy and Molly come across one of the last figures they want to meet under their ongoing situation, and then we are later served with a hilariously hallucinogenic scene depicted via stop motion animation.

While never losing its comic momentum, the movie also shows more emotional depth than expected. Around the narrative point where Molly and Amy finally arrive at the party place they are looking for (Is this a spoiler?), they are already developed fully as two engaging human characters, and the movie go further along with them as they come to learn more about not only themselves but also their relationship via a series of impactful moments happening around them. While many of supporting characters in the film are more or less than comic caricatures, the movie treats them with respect and affection, and they often surprise us nonetheless as revealing their recognizable human sides.

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Under Wilde’s skillful direction, the story keeps rolling as continuing to generate good moments for laughs. During its last 20 minutes, the movie seems to sag a bit, but then it virtually races to the finale with more amusement and delight for us, and you will surely appreciate how the last shot of the film is balanced well between genuine humor and sentiment.

It certainly helps that the movie is constantly buoyed by its two wonderful lead actresses. While Beanie Feldstein, who previously gave a terrific supporting performance in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” (2017), confirms to us that she is indeed a talented performer to watch, Kaitlyn Dever, whom I fondly remember for her harrowing supporting turn in “Short Term 12” (2013), is equally fabulous as effectively complementing her co-performer, and they effortlessly handle many uproarious moments in the film while not losing any of their characters’ humanity and intelligence.

Around Feldstein and Dever, the supporting cast members of the film have each own small fun as dutifully filling their respective parts. While Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Mike O’Brien, and Jason Sudeikis are suitably cast as a few adult characters in the story, the young cast members in the movie are commendable in their well-rounded ensemble acting on the whole, and the special mention must go to Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo, who are utterly hilarious and endearing as the aforementioned duo of wild rich kids.

In conclusion, “Booksmart” deserves to be mentioned along with other recent excellent American adolescent comedy films such as “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016) and “Eighth Grade” (2018), and Wilde, who recently impressed us a lot with her gritty performance in “A Vigilante” (2018), gives the exemplary demonstration of another side of her considerable talent. In short, this is one of the best comedy films of this year, and I urge you to watch it as soon as possible.

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