The essence of any film is a method of voice. “Booksmart” is a great anomaly but hopefully not. It is in some ways a modern day female “Superbad” but with more heart. While the exec producers are Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, this film is guided with a steady hand and as much of a good feature debut as done by many by Olivia Wilde. The performances are pinpoint but the way the music works moves it well. This could have been a simple movie about rite of passage but it has more because the subtext but also what is on surface is done with aplomb direction. Wilde brings in some of her friends (and her husband’s friends) but doesn’t overwhelm with any star power. It is the two girls that are the leads that power this. Kaitlyn Dever as Amy is great because the performance crosses many lines and persuasions but is so universal. Beanie Feldstein plays Molly and she is a wonderful folly in many ways…but Dever is the compass of the film. Like “Superbad” there is the would-be gross out moments but not in the way Seth Rogen would do it. There is a different energy here, like “Clueless” meets something this reviewer cannot quite place. It is organic and yet there is heartbreak. There is laughs and yet a bit of truth. There is heart and yet there is awkwardness. The balance is steadily maintained.
The movie doesn’t not dumb itself down. Despite any criticisms, this is the great thing about Annapurna, Megan Ellison’s company. In a world where there is just reboots and comic book characters, this is an original and it shines like a light (even though there are certain influences from before). Even all the secondary characters from Jared, a would be rich kid to Ryan whom Amy assumes aspects about is finely drawn but not a caricature. The film is all about assumption and the damage it does but also its undeniable nature. One person with a thankless persuasion who steals almost all the scenes she is in is Billie Lourd as Gigi. You would never know that this is the girl that was in the “Star Wars” movies with her mom Carrie Fisher. You can see the brilliance that was her mom coming through here as far as physical comedy and just enough of a wink. Again all the characters stick in your mind. At graduation this is very apparent as it shows how well the film is built. It is a smaller film but that is the beauty of the mid to lower range films that get lost…that beauty of films more than an indie but less than a studio with pedigree and talent firing correctly with a director with a steady hand who knows actors in and out and can obviously communicate exactly what she wants. Bravo Olivia.
By Tim Wassberg