Every few years a new senior year in high school/senior prom/graduation movie comes along. By and large, these tend to be truly raunchy comedies. And yet, for all the raunch, the best entries in the genre manage to get at some sort of eternal truth about what it means to be growing up both in a particular moment and in general. As such, they don’t just speak to teens, but to a far wider audience in general.
The newest of these films, “Booksmart,” is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the best high school graduation comedies to hit the screen in years. It is not just funny, it is hysterical; it is not just smart, it is genius; it is not just true, it is truly wise. Directed by Olivia Wilde (her directorial debut, no less) with a script from Emily Halpern & Sarah Haskins and Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, it is a film that deserves no less than “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” or “Mean Girls” or [insert your favorite John Hughes film here] status in the pantheon.
“Booksmart” follows the tale of Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they approach the end of the school year. The two have been best friends for years and made it to the top of their high school class by avoiding parties and general high school stupidity. Naturally though, the night before graduation provides the perfect opportunity for them to cut loose in some truly funny (because we’re watching it and not living it) ways. Shenanigans ensue.
I don’t mean that last sentence in a pejorative manner. The shenanigans are very funny and range from the truly over the top to the down to earth and insanely embarrassing. Wilde has put together a film which successfully operates in our world while doing things that are completely unimaginable at the same time.
Skyler Gisondo and Billie Lourd are complete standouts in their supporting roles that require them to be largely responsible for making the unbelievable believable, or simply making the audience not care that the unbelievable has taken place. As with everyone else in the cast, Gisondo and Lourd generate a lot of laughs and will have audiences looking for their other work (have you been sleeping on “Santa Clarita Diet?”).
The rest of the supporting cast—which includes Jason Sudeikis, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, and Noah Galvin—each is given a moment to shine, and each makes the most of said moment. Over and over again, the audience watches as an actor pops up for a scene or two and absolutely shines, taking center stage and commanding the audience to laugh.
Although much of the film operates from a place of (very successful) comedy, the moments of drama feel neither obligatory nor out of place. Instead, they are natural outgrowths of the comedic moments of the film and, as such, the film deftly moves into them without so much as batting an eye. This change requires a lot of Dever and Feldstein, and both women are outstanding. We truly feel for their characters and the cataclysmic changes that their lives are undergoing as they make this move out of high school.
It will be interesting to revisit “Booksmart” in five or 10 or 15 years to see just how well it holds up. Some aspects of the film are very much of this moment—like cell phones being whipped out to video a fight at a party—but so much of it is universal as well.
However, for right now, in this moment, “Booksmart” is a must-see movie. It is a perfect representation of the genre with outstanding performances from Dever, Feldstein, and the rest; immensely funny moments; and more than a little bit of truth and heartbreak.
Find it, see it, watch it.
photo credit: Annapurna Pictures