Released: 11th July
Seen: 24th July
20 years ago, the coming of age comedy American Pie hit cinemas. While it wasn’t the first movie to be about a bunch of teenagers deciding to reach some form of major milestone before graduation, it was certainly the one that everyone thinks of when it comes to modern teen sex comedies. Every one since has followed the basic premise of a group of friends who believe that they need to do something big (usually have sex) before they go off to college where everything will be very different. Of course, on the way to accomplishing this big goal, these movies would then have a bunch of wacky adventures. It’s a formula that’s worked in films like Superbad and a myriad of straight to digital films that no one ever saw. The problem with these films is that some of them didn’t age well, and usually all focussed on guys wanting to have sex and turned the female characters into background features. So what if we took the basic story structure of these films, let women be the leads and maintained the comical vulgarity while also being progressive while we do it?
Booksmart follows Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), a pair of high school girls who have done everything right. They’ve worked hard, they’ve studied, they took Debate Club for crying out loud. Now they’re about to graduate, Molly will go to Yale and Amy will go make tampons for women in Botswana before going to her dream college and everything will turn out to be fine… except Molly overhears some of the other kids, the ones who went to parties and had fun, talking about how they’re also going to prestigious schools. Struck by the realisation that they could’ve been having fun in high school while also getting into their dream college, Amy and Molly decide to go to a party at another student’s house so they can graduate with everyone understanding that they’re fun. Of course, the problem is that they don’t actually know that student’s address, so they need to find someone who does which leads them on a series of adventures that will test how strong their friendship is.
A film like this will live or die based on the cast. You can have the best script in the world but if your cast isn’t immediately likable, you’re dead in the water. With the double hitter of Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as the leads, no one had a damn thing to worry about. Everyone could’ve just taken a nap, the two leads have everything covered and will get us through. Their friendship is understandable immediately and their comedic chemistry is so perfect. You cannot teach what these two have, they just have it. Every scene where they’re together is a delight, I would watch the two of them reading a road map because I’m sure they’d make it hilarious. If the film only relied on them, I’d totally understand it because they are amazing but then the film decides to flex and show off by having a brilliant supporting cast. From Nick (Mason Gooding), the jock who is a secret nerd but also a bit of a player, to Jared (Skyler Gidondo), the desperate rich kid trying to buy his way into people’s hearts, to Gigi (Billie Lourd), the wild child who just turns up and exists while clearly being constantly off her face on some kind of narcotic, every single side character is layered and hilarious. You want a fun flamboyant gay black man who will read you into the ground with a look? We have one. You want the popular girl who everyone thinks is promiscuous but she’s also secretly a genius? We have that too. These characters are fun and layered and I love them all. Especially Gigi, who I’m pretty sure is just in the film because Billie Lourd said “I want to steal every scene that I can” and then proceeded to be a scene thief.
One big thing this film shows is that you can actually show progressive politics while being boundary-pushing and edgy. It’s one of the big criticisms in modern media discussions that inclusivity is going to mean we can’t tell certain jokes or do vulgar movies, then along comes Booksmart with its insanely progressive cast (seriously, it’s like there was a checklist of every possible progressive character trait that the film desperate to fill in) to show that you absolutely can do an insanely raunchy comedy that’s also inclusive. It’s not that hard, just required some thought and care about what was being done. Every scene is just loaded with great jokes and endless charm. I was smiling the entire time and laughed so hard on multiple occasions that I’m pretty confident my laughter scared small animals that were near the cinema. I won’t spoil the joke because it’s genuinely great, but I will NEVER look at a panda plush toy the same way again after this movie.
With a terrific cast and snappy writing, Booksmart pushes all the right buttons to be a great time. It’s hilarious, wonderfully acted and just a ton of fun. When the biggest critique I can think of is “It’s too short, I wanted more”, that should tell you how great this film is. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more, I can’t wait to see what’s next for the leads or for the director because now I know how good they are, I’ll be actively looking to see what they’re doing. If you can still see Booksmart in cinemas then go and support them or buy it on DVD, I promise you that it’s the smart decision to make.