Booksmart (2019)

It’s a rare treat to get a film like Booksmart. It’s not especially original: the “Superbad but with girls” logline sums it up. What makes Booksmart special is the graceful way it pairs authentic emotion with big belly laughs, thanks to the perfect combination of stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever and director Olivia Wilde.

Set (mostly) across a single day and night, Booksmart sets off its ‘teenagers getting up to trouble at an end-of-year party’ with Feldstein and Dever’s characters realising that while their diligence was rewarded with college entry, their peers managed to combine partying and good grades. The antics that ensue split the difference between the outrageous – whether it’s a hilarious Billie Lourd or a somewhat-off-putting hallucinatory sequence – and aching emotionality.

It might only be a minor adjustment to shift a story traditionally centred on teen boys to teen girls, but it makes all the difference. Where the boys’ version of the story is typically about stripping away bravado to reveal its protagonists’ emotional core, here those emotions are front-and-centre from the get-go, lending Booksmart a resonance that lingers. Superbad didn’t have a single scene as moving as Booksmart’s powerful pool scene, for instance. Don’t miss it.

4 stars

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