‘Booksmart’: a teen comedy that breaks from tradition


COURTESY OF Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Denver in “Booksmart,” a new comedy about two straight-laced high school students determined to take some risks before college.

With summer movie season kicking into full gear with the likes of the Avengers, Godzilla, John Wick, Pikachu and Elton John, it becomes frighteningly simple to overlook the smaller, more personal films that audiences can be graced with at the theater. Films that bring the scale down to a human level and treat audiences to escapist poignancy and relatability. Films like Olivia Wilde’s fresh and gut-bustingly hilarious debut feature “Booksmart.”

“Booksmart” tells the story of two high school seniors, Amy and Molly, who on the eve of their graduation decide to play against the rules that they have stuck so closely to for their entire grade school career in order to live out one crazy night that they never allowed themselves to have.

That might sound like something you have seen before, but let me assure you that “Booksmart” is one of the most lively and outwardly audacious and cinematic offerings from the teen comedy genre we have ever seen. This is due of course to the amazing direction from Wilde and the unbelievable charisma and chemistry of the film’s two up-and-coming leads, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein.

“Olivia created an environment that was very loving and easy and everyone had the best time,” Dever said.

“Director’s don’t go on other directors’ sets, but actors go on everyone’s sets, so that’s why actors make the best directors,” Feldstein said. “They can go, ‘I’m gonna take this from this person, I’m not gonna take this from this person’ and then they create their dream set and that’s what Olivia always wanted to do.”

This heart and passion 100 percent shows through in the film. Underneath the smooth surface layer of style, raunch and belly laughs is a very nuanced and rich emotional core. One that actively works with everyone in audience for a little inner reflection.

“There’s so much you can take away [from “Booksmart],” Dever said. “I think the film asks the audience to maybe look at the world [a] little differently and place less judgement on people that you judge before.”

“This opens you up to see people more clearly for who they actually are versus who you sort of expect them to be,” Feldstein said.

Subversion and surprises are important in any film, but especially within one that belongs to such an iconic and popular subgenre as the teen comedy. When watching “Booksmart,” it really does not take long before you realize you are in the presence of a very special film with a really singular heart to it. If the way it’s been playing with festival crowds and critic circles is any indication, “Booksmart” is destined to be a modern teen classic.

“With movies, you never know what the outcome is going to be,” Dever said. “But for me, the best films that I’ve been a part of are films that no one had large expectations with. I think that’s what made [“Booksmart”] so good. People went in having so much passion for the story.”

“We also just want people to call their friends after they see this movie,” Feldstein added.