The teen comedy is, of course, a longtime Hollywood tradition. Occasionally there’s a party involved, usually kids feel out of place at their high schools, and often there are lessons learned about growing up or accepting others for who they are.
Booksmart, the feature debut from actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde, is being called one of the all-time greatest examples of the genre. But, it doesn’t quite reach those heights. It’s certainly on the better end of the spectrum, but transcendent, it’s not.
Booksmart gives us the final days of the high school careers of two girls, played magnificently by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. They’ve worked incredibly hard academically, sacrificing much of the fun their classmates have had in order to get into the very best schools. But they learn those classmates also got into those very best schools, despite screwing around so much of the time. And so, the girls decide they must do something outrageous for once in their lives, and they resolve to go to the huge party everyone’s talking about.
They do, definitely, find themselves in outrageous situations, and unfortunately, for me, the first hour of the movie was so manic I had trouble getting into it. It settles down, though, and is thoughtful enough, and likely does more to depict underrepresented communities than any other major-release teen movie ever. It turns out being gay, for example, just isn’t that unusual anymore. That representation is important, and if there’s something that truly sets Booksmart apart, that’s it.
Beyond that, the movie’s not doing anything new. It’s firmly within its genre, and it hits some of the same notes you’ll find in TV shows like "Broad City" and "Pen15," though the shows are doing it better.
But that’s fine. Booksmart is perfectly enjoyable, if a bit much at times, and like any good teen movie it serves as a cultural touchstone. And without a doubt, the two leads, Dever and Feldstein, are going to be stars.