Review: Booksmart (2019)

Booksmart (2019) Booksmart (2019)

Olivia Wilde should be directing more, and more, and more.

Booksmart is about the final days of high school for best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein). It’s an adorable friendship between lovable characters, with performances so charismatic that mere minutes into the film, I knew I’d want to watch beyond the end of this movie to see what kind of people they become as they get older.

Booksmart goes far beyond ticking all the “one last wild night” coming-of-age boxes: it’s fresh, without being contrived or derivative, on just about every level – particularly characterisation, performance, and visuals. It’s the directorial debut from Olivia Wilde, whose choices here are always interesting, intuitive, and above all, true – to the scenes, to the characters, and to how the emotions and beats of these moments might really feel.

Wilde’s instincts are wonderful, and I look forward to anything she makes in the future.

Lending, I think, in no small way to how emotional this film feels, is something technical, perhaps subliminal, but certainly palpable: the look of Jason McCormick‘s warm, classical, anamorphic cinematography – which, together with Jamie Gross‘s complimentary editing, produces some visual sequences which are by turns surprising, unique, often unexpectedly stunning, and memorable.

Check out the incredible slow-mo hallway shot which, though she isn’t even in it, says everything about how Molly is feeling:

The beautiful swimming pool scene:

And the argument scene, which I won’t include here, because its context is everything, does so many things right – from the action in the background to the drowning out the exact point in many arguments at which the words themselves become irrelevant, and it’s simply about slinging and being hit by pain – is just exquisitely acted, shot, soundtracked, and above all directed.

Oh and the soundtrack: on point.

The surprises keep coming: every single character gets a moment to reveal a second, unexpected side, which is unusual enough in most films, but particularly in a high school comedy. It helps that the film’s cast is full of charismatic young actors (and some typically wonderful casting by Allison Jones). MVP (if that’s even possible with a cast so roundly popping): Billie Lourd, clearly having inherited mother Carrie Fischer‘s genes, is unfathomably hilarious every single time her Penny-‘Almost Famous‘-Lane-on-acid-nightmare Gigi so much as flashes across the screen.

Sure, there are a couple of moments that feel predictable or a little off – the predictable phone gag in one particular Uber ride; Miss Fine’s (Jessica Williams) ultimate character arc – but each of these is more than made up for with amazing moments from the effortlessly riotous Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s parents, each a masterclass in comic timing.

What a warm, wonderful, masterful film.

Further Viewing

Olivia Wilde’s thoughtful, insightful, and eloquent openness about her approach to her craft reveals that magical moments captured in this film as the direct result of the unique atmosphere she fostered on set. Chatting with BBC Radio 1‘s excellent Ali Plumb, Olivia makes you want more movies not only from her, but with this whole cast and crew. Just try not to be inspired:

“It’s not just friendship – it’s ten years of… getting through adolescence together, learning about their bodies and their minds together” – a masterclass in chemistry, between characters and between actors, in practice and in theory: come for the mind-meld level game of charades, stay for the discussion of the process of creating their connection (via MTV):

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