Booksmart (2019)

Olivia Wilde directs Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever and Billie Lourd in this teen comedy where two bookworms decide to party hard the night before graduation.

Sold as a Femme Fresh superior Superbad and with a cast I had enjoyed in lots of other things I went into Booksmart with high hopes. Yet the first hour didn’t really click. I chuckled and smiled, appreciated the energy of the leads, loved it whenever Billie Lourd or Skyler Gisondo gatecrashed a scene. They were brilliant in Scream Queens and Santa Clarita Diet respectively, they capitalise and evolve that goodwill here. But I hadn’t laughed hard like Superbad had got me a decade a go. There the bad behaviour felt organically moronic, didn’t have the fun dampening spectre of identity politics floating around every line, action and pratfall as this does. Comedy kinda has to fake spontaneity and that’s very hard to do if you know every creative decision has noticeably passed through the filters of “Is this feminist?” and “Is this positive?”. Just as I was about to write Booksmart off as a comedy, it suddenly became its own thing… at the final party the emphasis on awkward gags, nerdy cool and epic pratfalls gave way to something a bit more emotionally relevant, cinematically true. The final party shifts gear into drama and romance, not only do these elements resonate but within the alienation and self-realisation the lower gag rate yields better results. In the final stretch you laugh at every joke attempted rather watch a film tie itself into knots about whether it is woke enough. So once we are burning leather and racing to graduation we are in, there in the driving seat with our protagonists, loving them like we always wanted to, looking forward to their closure as much as we do the spirited support players. Booksmart turns it around, finishing neck and neck with its inspiration Superbad. The thumping soundtrack and fluid visual sensibility doesn’t hurt.


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