Jun 3, 2019
So, we’ll start the review in a little bit. I’m just waiting for One Movie Spouse to show up to share a few thoughts. I told her what time we were recording but... What... what’s that? Is that? Oh. Oh no. Not again...
One Movie Spouse: Picture this! Here’s a pair of lips! Gotta give a kiss! I am kitsch! I will give some LOVE to Make a Wish!
Joseph: Pretty sure those aren’t the lyrics, but I approve. Ready for the intro?
One Movie Spouse: Wasn’t that it?
Joseph: Good point. Anyway, if you haven’t seen today’s movie, and you’re looking for a laugh out loud comedy that’s definitely not safe for work, then you really, really, REALLY need to get to a theater and support this film. It’s definitely in my top ten this year. Probably top five.
One Movie Spouse: I really identified with the characters, and they felt very real to me, showing the richness and complexity of female friendship and adolescence. I also felt the film captured the excitement and uncertainty in transitions to adulthood.
One Movie Spouse: For a few other movies in the same crazy vein, but not nearly as good, check out “Blockers” (Episode #360), “Game Night” (Episode #355), and “The Package” (Episode #226), although maybe less so. And for a film in the same emotional vein, check out “Eighth Grade” (Episode #218) and “Lady Bird” (Episode #161), along with “Dude” (Episode #111).
Joseph: Subscribe to stay current with the latest releases. Connect with us over social media to continue the conversation. Here we go!
Joseph: Thanks for your help!
One Movie Spouse: You’re welcome! I just wish I wasn’t so busy with the school year ending! Ack! By the way, who said you could be this handsome?
Joseph: What do you mean? I might pass out right now, because you’re taking my breath away!
One Movie Spouse: We better stop. I can hear the groans already.
Today’s movie is “Booksmart”, the Annapurna Pictures production directed by Olivia Wilde, her feature-length directorial debut, and written for the screen by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman. The film follows two lifelong friends, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), as they navigate their final day of high school. When Molly realizes she hasn’t had nearly enough fun, she drags Amy out in search of a graduation party, and along the way, they have some hilarious adventures.
What is a perfect movie? It’s an important question, especially in a world of movie criticism based on ranking systems, forced comparisons between movies and actors, directors and writers, genres and franchises, top 10 lists by a variety of metrics, and winner take all award ceremonies. We have this insane compulsion to judge films against one another, as if when all the films are made, there will be a definitive list of movies in a perfect ranking. Sure, we might have our personal favorites, which have meaning to us, but in general, we should try to judge each film based on its own merits, not always in relation to other films, and not just on technical quality, or box office, or cultural impact.
So, what’s a perfect movie? For me, a perfect movie manifests in a number of different ways. Sometimes a film will take a genre to new heights, like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” (Episode #381) did with animation and comic book hero storytelling, or “Avengers: Endgame” (Episode #469) did with the media franchise. Sometimes a film will bring new perspectives, like “Get Out” (Episode #448) and “Us” (Episode #449), or revisit historical moments like “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Episode #465) or “Roma” (Episode #352) which capture moments in time. And sometimes, you get a film like “Booksmart”, which takes a seemingly well-trodden premise, but brings exciting and missing new perspectives while also capturing the modern time. And if that’s not a perfect film, I’m not sure what is.
“Booksmart” is a coming of age comedy film, specifically in the sub-genre of graduation-focused films. For most of the United States, this moment in time serves as a crossroads into adulthood, which attaches a lot of readily available meaning and themes into the story. What this sub-genre lacks, however, are long-missing perspectives, in particular female and lesbian adolescence, which aren’t caught up in the high school coming of age films from the 1980s and 1990s, where most of the girls are idealistically pining away for love, rarely talking about sexual matters outside of kissing and heavy petting. The 2000s and 2010s loosened up the genre a little more, and in the last five years, we’ve seen three incredibly frank and modern takes on female adolescence, in 2016’s “The Edge of Seventeen” (Episode forthcoming), 2017’s “Lady Bird” (Episode #161), and 2018’s “Eighth Grade” (Episode #218).
In fact, my new favorite conspiracy theory was recently suggested by Matt Neglia of Next Best Picture, that these three films, in addition to “Booksmart”, may exist in a shared universe. It makes a lot of sense, thematically speaking. “Booksmart” is the logical extension of these incredible films, maintaining the emotional themes from the other films, but driving the experience firmly into the comedy genre, and covering head-on so many once taboo topics about female adolescence. However, rather than making “the female version of Superbad” (which is probably the worst, yet easiest comparison for this film), the writing team gives us a buddy comedy with two genuine and relatable female characters, exploring two separate paths after graduation that will affect their friendship, all packed into a larger quest-driven story arc to find self-transformation. And along the way, the writing team drops the bottom out from underneath common tropes of the genre, with the right mix of story plants and call backs, and riding the line of good taste that will challenge the audience in healthy ways.
Especially the notion that we shouldn’t judge other people against everyone else, or assume that the same evaluation criteria can be applied equally across everyone. You know, like how I was talking about films earlier.
The script is fantastic, but that’s not enough to make a great film. Wilde’s impressive feature-length directorial debut exceeds any and all expectations. I felt a strong and positive relationship between Wilde and the two leads, as they worked together to capture the right angles and takes for every scene, and in such a way where everyone looked and felt comfortable in their roles, even if their characters were less than comfortable. No scene ever overstays its welcome, and nothing seems superfluous. It all has a consistent look and feel from start to finish, and a great, accelerating pace right up to the very end. Spectacular camera work all around.
But the real stars are Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. They embodied their roles so well that I never doubted their performances, becoming fully invested in their stories, and with each conflict, I could see and feel the changes happening to each character. They both were able to genuinely express that adolescent mixture of supreme self-confidence with shocking blind spots in their awareness, summed up wonderfully in their hilarious affirmation exchanges to overcome their doubts, and their tear-jerking efforts to build each other up after their losses. And they do it all while capturing the middle class liberated high school mindset and experiences of modern suburbia and exurbia.
“Booksmart” is hilarious, from start to finish, but also ends up being subversively heartwarming about the female adolescent experience. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are perfect, realistically and genuinely driving the film, with expert direction from Olivia Wilde, and based on a script from a brilliant team of writers. Fans of coming of age films, who aren’t offended by frank conversation about sexual topics, must absolutely see this film, along with any adolescent teenager, male or female. You may even learn a new, mask-like hairstyle in the process.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
Metacritic: 84 (MUST SEE)
One Movie Punch: 10/10
“Booksmart” (2019) is rated R and is currently playing in theaters.