Film review ‘BOOKSMART’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Teen comedy Booksmart is the slightly unexpected directorial debut for actress Olivia Wilde. Playing like a grungier Romy and Michelle and an indie American Pie with touches of Superbad, the film explores teen high school rituals in a refreshingly honest, insightful and ballsy manner.

The film sees nerd besties Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Deaver) preparing to crown their years of hard work and academic success at high school graduation. Slightly smug at their atypical teen commitment to study they discover to their horror that the dope-smoking slackers they despised have been accepted into the same Ivy League universities as them. Falling into an existential funk they begin to question whether they’ve missed too much by shunning the partying lifestyle. Determined to makes amends, they decide to attend a popular guy’s party but what should have been a simple car trip turns into a night-time odyssey through LA that sees them confronting romantic dramas, disastrous sexual encounters, serial killers and long-held feelings about each other.

While the film occasionally opts for predictable sex jokes there’s a layer of intelligence that lifts Booksmart above most teen-oriented comedies. Molly and Amy debate politics and feminism and offer genuine and perceptive insights into friendships and the ludicrousness of social conformity.

Through an above average script and inspired performances from the entire cast, the film delivers a collection of memorable characters who add an unusual spin on teen movie archetypes. Molly and particularly Amy are identifiable and sympathetic figures but they’re also complex and flawed people who at times harshly judge there classmates. Special mention also has to be made of Billie Lourd who plays a drug-fuelled oddball teen who pops up everywhere inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) traumatising Amy and Molly. She’s kooky enough to have come straight from a Russ Meyer movie.

Given the teen movie genre’s well-worn tropes it’s difficult for a director to avoid cliché and familiarity. Olivia Wilde does her best to put a new spin on the teen rites of passage formula but at times Booksmart feels like a patchwork of ideas borrowed from other films.

Still, there’s enough energy and sass in Booksmart to allow it to overcome most of its shortcomings and it joins Eighth Grade as one of the better teen films of recent years.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Teen comedy/drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Olivia Wilde.

Release date: 11th July 2019.

Running time: 103 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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