Booksmart (2019) Review

Time: 102 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Drug use, sexual Drug use, sexual references & offensive language
Cast:
Beanie Feldstein as Molly Davidson
Kaitlyn Dever as Amy Antsler
Jessica Williams as Miss Fine
Lisa Kudrow as Charmaine Antsler
Will Forte as Doug Antsler
Jason Sudeikis as Jordan Brown
Billie Lourd as Gigi
Diana Silvers as Hope
Director: Martin Scorsese

Academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) thought keeping their noses to the grindstone gave them a leg up on their high school peers. But on the eve of graduation, the best friends suddenly realize that they may have missed out on the special moments of their teenage years. Determined to make up for lost time, the girls decide to cram four years of not-to-be missed fun into one night — a chaotic adventure that no amount of book smarts could prepare them for.

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I have been hearing about Booksmart for the longest time, it had received acclaim from critics and audiences alike, and was often placed among the best movies of the year. I was quite sceptical about it, I have to say. From the brief glances I saw of the movie I got the feeling I wouldn’t love it as much as others, not to mention that I’m not a fan of coming of age stories. Still, I was going to give it a fair chance and I did. Having seen it, I have some very mixed feelings about the movie, and while I don’t exactly dislike it, I don’t really like it much either.

Booksmart practically announces itself as a subversive take on a coming of age story, especially with the main characters. While it seems different from other similar movies, that’s only surface level. Booksmart follows much of the same structure, story beats, and the like in most coming of age movies. There’s even a familiar argument scene between the main friend characters (which happens out of the blue and for no reason in this movie I should add). There are attempts at being modern and woke, parts of it are okay, but most of it doesn’t work, and often feels immature and out of touch. It’s pretty much what you first think of when you hear the concept of fully grow adults trying to write woke teen comedies, a mess to say the least. There’s something that hits me the more I thought about the movie afterwards, that lack of relatability. I’m not a big fan of coming of age movies, but much of why a lot of other movies in this genre are loved is relatability. Sure there might be a couple of things with the lead characters that you can relate to, but that’s where it ends. The best coming of age released in recent years for me was The Edge of Seventeen, and that was mainly because of genuine complications that the characters go through, even if you can’t relate to their problems, at least it feels somewhat real. I’m not necessarily expecting complete realism all the way through with Booksmart, but this movie is practically a fantasy and so over the top, from the scenarios to the characters. Even if it wasn’t going for realism, it’s nonetheless hard to emotionally connect to them on any level. In the third act when it tries to get emotional at a point, it just doesn’t hit at all, especially with how goofy the rest of the movie beforehand was. I haven’t even gotten to the humour yet, I really did not find Booksmart to be that funny. And it’s more than just it not being funny, there’s some scenarios and side characters that are completely awkward and hard to watch (the latter of which I’ll get into in a bit). Throughout the movie aside from maybe the early sections, I was not invested or entertained whatsoever.

The saving grace of the movie are the leads with Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. There’s parts involving the characters and the writing that aren’t so great, but these two actresses work very well together and share wonderful chemistry. I absolutely believed that these two are friends, and when it’s just the two of them acting together, I actually liked it. They are the only thing that comes close to something somewhat carrying the movie. The rest of the characters are incredibly over the top cartoons, the thing is that none of them are funny. If anything, they just made the movie awkward and hard to watch. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was meant to be unnerving (because if that was the legitimate intention they certainly succeeded), but as it is, I think it missed the mark. Billie Lourd is particularly a reoccurring character that pops up plenty of times, and I guess she’s meant to be funny and the main ‘comedic relief’… but she just didn’t work for me. Like the others she was over the top, obnoxious, and made it hard to watch it.

This is the debut of Olivia Wilde as a director, she’s definitely showed off her talents well, and I’d like to see her direct a lot more movies. On the technical side, there wasn’t much I have to complain about except that the soundtrack was a little overdone.

I really wish I could‘ve liked Booksmart, it had potential for sure. Outside of Olivia Wilde’s direction and Dever and Feldstein however, it was rather hard to get through. It’s really over the top, mostly unfunny, very cliched (for all the attempts at subverting familiar coming of age tropes), and at times obnoxious. To be brutally honest, I did not get anything out of the movie except with the feeling that Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are great and definitely deserve the attention they are getting, and that Olivia Wilde should be given more directing gigs for sure. I guess if you’re somewhat interested in this movie however, see it for yourself. Booksmart is among the most loved movies of the year, I’m just disappointingly in the minority of people who didn’t really like it.

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