Movie Review: Booksmart (2019)
Most everyone has already pointed out the “Superbad” similarities. A heavy bossy high schooler (Beanie Feldstein, the sister of Jonah Hill), and her thin shy friend (Kaitlyn Dever, apparently unrelated to Michael Cera), try to find the party on the night before high school graduation. Along the way, they get into and out of trouble, lose and find love, get drunk, fight, make-up, and say good-bye. It’s raunchy, funny and surprisingly sweet.
It also made me feel old. Like: way, way old.
So they have unisex bathrooms in high school now? Or is that just in So Cal? Or is that just in So Cal in the movies? And why is the teacher, Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams, late of “The Daily Show”), hanging around the edges of the party? She’s not going to party with them, is she? Wait, she’s not going to sleep with that student, is she? With no repercussions? In the #MeToo age? Wow. Reverse the genders and see how well that bit plays.
I was also wary of how close the camera got to some of those young bodies. Maybe that’s just the female gaze of first-time director Olivia Wilde. Or maybe I’m old. Like: way, way old.
A brassy Tracy Flick
I like this aspect of “Booksmart”: You think the problem will be ostracism but it turns out to be something much more universal: heartbreak.
In the beginning, the filmmakers—Wilde, and screenwriters Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins (“Trophy Wife”)—set it up so there’s jocks here, skateboarders there, techies and burnouts, along with our two heroes, Molly and Amy (Feldstein and Deaver), as the brainiacs who, ssshh, got into Ivy League schools. Except it turns out the other kids did, too. Like all of them. Again, is this specific to So Cal? Or does Lori Laughlin have that many kids?
But this knowledge—that her laser focus on her studies didn’t take her any further than the doofuses that partied all the time—is like an epiphany for Molly, senior class president, and she turns that laser focus into making sure they get in their share of partying before graduation the next day. She’s like a brassy Tracy Flick cramming for a final—but with partying.
The party to go to is Nick’s (Mason Gooding), the cutest of the jocks, and VEEP to Molly’s class president, but they don’t know his address. Trying to find it is the driving force for much of the movie. They wind up: 1) at the empty boat party of rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo); 2) at a murder mystery party hosted by gay, theatrical classmates George and Alan (Noah Galvin, Austin Crute, standouts); 3) tripping and hallucinating after drug-laced strawberries kick in; and finally 4) hijacking the pizza-delivery dude for Nick’s address. Then they call Ms. Fine to drive them there.
I assumed once there they wouldn’t exactly be welcomed by the various cliques, but they are. By everyone. It’s nice. But it makes you wonder what the conflict will be.
Turns out: heartbreak.
Amy has a thing for skateboarding girl Ryan (skateboarder Victoria Ruesga), who digs her, too, and makes her sing at the karaoke portion of the party; but then Ryan winds up snogging in the shallow end of the pool with Nick, Molly’s 11th-hour crush. Amy is crushed, but when she tries to leave the party, Molly stops her. And rather than explain what happened, Amy suddenly brings up everything that’s been bubbling below the surface of their probably lifelong relationship: How Molly is so controlling, and how Amy needs to get away from her, and no, she’s not just going to Botswana for the summer but for a year, because she needs to breathe; then she runs, distraught, into the bathroom.
At this point, “Booksmart” becomes a bit conventional. What happens in the movies when you don’t get the one you want? Someone else, generally shockingly good-looking, turns up. See: Minka Kelly as Autumn in “(500) Days of Summer” or Lea Seydoux as Gabrielle in “Midnight in Paris.” Here, Amy is surprised in the bathroom by the ultracool and aptly named Hope (Diana Silvers), who looks like a model. In fact, she’s played by a model. She’s played by a woman whose upper lip puts most lower lips to shame. And Amy winds up mashing on that upper lip. Such is the way: If Summer is gone, Autumn shows up; if you’re feeling hopeless, here’s Hope.
Such is the way of Hollywood anyway. The rest of us pay full price.
You are all a video-taking generation
I like that Molly and Amy don’t reunite that night. Everyone is separated, and Amy gets arrested, and Molly has a moment with a girl (Molly Gordon), nicknamed Triple A, who’s known for giving handjobs/blowjobs in cars. Thus the nickname. And With Triple A, Molly learns an important lesson. No, not that the rumors aren’t true. They are. Triple A likes giving handjobs/blowjobs in cars. She just doesn’t like the nickname.
The reunion occurs the next morning when Molly bails Amy out of jail, and they race to make the graduation ceremony, where Molly, as class prez, has to give a speech; and the speech she’s written isn’t the speech she gives, of course, because she’s learned so much the previous evening about blah blah blah. Yeah, that speech is actually a disappointing part of the movie. So are the so-called 1% (Jared and Gigi, played by Billie Lourd), who were just too over-the-top for me. I didn’t buy them, or care about them.
But I laughed. A lot. And I like the movie’s by-the-way inclusiveness—like it weren’t no big thing. As I was watching, it even made me feel good about this generation. They were putting divisiveness behind us and forging a newer, better, cleaner path. Good for them.
Then we got the big Molly-Amy breakup scene. They’re yelling at each other in the middle of the party, and in front of all the other kids, who stop what they’re doing and listen. You wonder if anyone is going to try to break it up. Nope. In the background, somewhat blurry, you see one light, then another, and then another.
Me: Are the other kids ... filming this?
A second later: Yes. Yes, they are.
Yeah, OK, you guys are fucked up, too.