Booksmart

 This review contains spoilers

Booksmart is a dumbfilm.

See what I did there? Okay. Let's press on.

I didn't really know much about the film beforehand. I just knew the basic synopsis: Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are in their final year of high school. They are both proud academic overachievers and feminists. The day before their high school graduation, to Molly's horror, she realises that several of her classmates whom she considered stupid, or destined for unspectacular colleges due to spending their high school years partying, are actually bound for good jobs and colleges. She finds Amy and immediately tries persuading her to go out with her to school vice president/popular boy Nick's end-of-year party, out of fear of being known for doing nothing fun with her adolescence.

I went into the cinema with fairly high hopes. Personally, my last few years of school were very uneventful, so I was expecting the film to resonate with me in some ways. As Molly and Amy are both bright young women, I was also expecting the film to be well-written with plenty of funny moments. That was what really disappointed me.

In the very first scene we see Molly sitting on her bedroom floor in a lotus position, listening to a motivational speaker telling the listener to "fuck the losers. Fuck them right in their stupid fucking faces". During this speech, the film cuts to close ups of Molly's framed pictures of feminist icons Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as a woman's suffragist costume. She is soon interrupted by Amy, who shows up to give her a lift to school. The two do this, um, hilarious (read cringey) dance as they meet. That pretty much summarises their on-screen chemistry. Their friendship felt really forced to me. They joke around as they discuss unconventional masturbation techniques and persuade each other to pursue their crushes (Amy, who came out two years ago has been quietly pining for skater girl Ryan. Meanwhile, Molly confesses to Amy that she secretly fancies Nick). I don't know if it was their performances (Dever's felt quite wooden) or the writing, but it just felt so unnatural and forced.



 Peter Debruge, a film critic for 'Variety', called Booksmart "the best high school buddy comedy since Superbad". Superbad didn't do much for me, because overall it felt banal. Sadly, the same can be said for Booksmart. Yes, they are clearly both feminists (they even use "Malala" as a code word for unconditionally doing what the other person wants to do, no questions asked) and they both set out and achieve what they want to do; to experience a high school party before graduation. But I couldn't help but notice that they both didn't manage to graduate without them each having a romantic interest. During Nick's party, at different points in the evening, Amy and Molly see Ryan and Nick making out. After Amy finds out, she heads to the bathroom but finds Hope (Diana Silvers) already in there. Hope's character is basically "the hot girl". Despite the two girls never speaking to each other beforehand, Amy kisses Hope and they almost have sex in the bathroom before Amy vomits on her. But the next day, Hope appears outside Amy's house and gives her her number. Additionally, after the two girls dramatically arrive late on graduation day by driving through a wire fence onto the school lawn (Molly had gone to get Amy out of jail for distracting police officers who had come to stop Nick's party, allowing the rest of the guests to escape. If there's a time for reckless driving, it's definitely after getting a friend out of prison...), Molly kisses Jared, which receives a round of applause, before reading her graduation speech. Jared (Skyler Gisondo) is a loud, wealthy lad stereotype (or a bro/jock, as they are known in the US). The girls end up briefly attending his very lifeless party first, before moving on to a murder mystery-themed evening and then finally find Nick's party. Jared and Molly aren't especially close; after the girls have a fight before the end of the night, Molly and Jared talk and he confesses that despite the rumours of his parents hiring an escort for him when he was 14, he is still a virgin. So when they kissed during graduation day it just felt really random.

I think the scene that irritated me the most was the drug trip scene. Gigi (Billie Lourd), Jared's crazy druggy friend, tells Amy and Molly that the strawberries they had eaten at Jared's party had been dipped in a hallucinogenic. During the murder mystery party, the two girls start tripping. The trip is depicted as a stop motion animation - in which the girls are Barbie-esque dolls with unnatural proportions. Amy starts checking out her doll body, but Molly tells her to snap out of it, saying "that's what they want you to think". The whole scene felt like it was really pandering, as if it had just been included to make a comment on how hypersexualised dolls' bodies are.



Overall, what really bugged me about Booksmart was how forced everything felt. Almost all the characters were caricatures, including Molly and Amy. When we first see Amy she is wearing a denim jacket, covered in patches such as the trans symbol or one that just said "vegan" in bold capitalised text. Molly wears over sized checked blazers and carries a rucksack around with her; yep, she's clearly the geeky one. What I found really hilarious was that Jared even drove a car with a number plate that reads "Fuck Boi". I'm not joking.

What I liked about the teen movies Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You, is that they use a down to earth, vanilla character as their main point-of-view. You are seeing this crazy Hollywood version of high school through the eyes of Cady - and, to an extent, Cameron in 10 Things. Some of the cliques in these films, like the "Cool Asians", "Coffee Kids", "White Rastas" or "Future MBAs" seem subtle compared to the high school students in Booksmart. In fact, almost nothing about Booksmart is subtle at all.

Despite this, there were a few moments in the film's second half which did feel quite true to real high school life. To me, the scene where the girls' argue over Molly's controlling tendencies was the first moment that felt remotely natural between them. There's also quite a nice moment when Molly is offered a lift home by "Triple A", a classmate with a reputation for being promiscuous. They bond over the stereotypes they both face. My favourite moment was when the girls' teacher and friend Miss Fine (Jessica Williams), shares how she had also spent her high school years solely studying and that she overcompensated for her lack of teenaged fun for most of her 20s. She advises them to find more balance in their lives. I thought it was a really touching moment.

However, these tender, more natural moments are all sandwiched between a number of obnoxiously unfunny scenes. I only laughed once, when Amy, who is being escorted to a police car after the party, calls shotgun - and then quickly tells the police officers she doesn't have a shotgun. The rest of the film's humour really just didn't gel with me at all. I noticed Will Ferrell was one of the film's executive producers. Need I say more?

Booksmart has received praise from critics for its fresh take on "the raunchy, coming of age comedy" and I agree, it does manage to do something a bit different with the genre. My main criticism is how this was done.

Overall, it's always nice to see a film doing something new with an otherwise tired genre, but I think I would have enjoyed Booksmart much more if it took a more subtle approach to its comedy.

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