In 2019, ‘having fun’ involves a crucial mission to make sure the entire world sees you having fun. Shy students make sure cool kids can take notice, and it’s a truly euphoric thrill to experience this anxiety deployed with so much joy in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart. Faking it sometimes works, as shy pre-teen Kayla learns from behind her Instagram filters in Eighth Grade, while Lady Bird attempts to reshape the definition of ‘cool’ through the titular protagonist’s own woke politics and heartening confessions under the sheets. But in Booksmart, FOMO urges Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) – an overachieving valedictorian and a headstrong queer feminist – to prove their unapologetic confidence in a freewheeling mission to make their good night look, and genuinely feel, like the best time for everyone. “Nobody knows we’re fun,” Molly explains. “They need to know.”
Walking a path of well-trodden hedonistic youth, first-time director Olivia Wilde carves a note-perfect millennial portrait rife with specificity. Instead of relying on sweeping messages, Booksmart beams with immediacy and relishes Polaroid-ready memories: a celebration toasted with condoms used as water balloons; an accidental drug trip suffered by Barbie dolls; a whispered, “I love you,” between best friends outside a thundering party; the echoes of vigorous lesbian porn reverberating through the aux cable of a rainbow-coloured Lyft. Each sketch testifies to Wilde’s fearless, innovative skill in capturing moments that belong to a collective youth, while giving them the brazen and wholly original identity of these two brand-new A+ heroes.
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are firmly on their way to superstardom.
Molly and Amy expertly revise the narratives on bedroom masturbation, playground flirting, wardrobe emergencies and beer pong tactics. Because they only have one night to live out four years of recklessness before the alarm bells of graduation morning ring, lessons usually rationalised with hindsight are learned in the heat of the moment. Wilde never misses a beat, bringing every new mood into focus with urgency — with both a splashy, spirited visual identity, and an infectiously enjoyable jukebox playlist, full of militant pop songs guaranteed to galvanise a generation.
With such unfiltered charisma, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are firmly on their way to superstardom. Affective vulnerability defines their characters without a trace of weakness — this involving teenage experience is full of curiosity, lust, insecurity, jealousy and loyalty, without the predictive stylings typically employed for female characters. Instead of being reduced to giggling, blushing clichés pretending to be human beings, Molly and Amy take their friendship as seriously as their grades: compliments are ferociously fired back and forth, with the strictness of the most critical study session, and they only stop dancing when they run out of breath. Their personalities glow but their faces stay straight. The modern young woman has sardonic humour running through her veins, self-assurance seeping out of her pores.
Lisa Kudrow, as Amy’s painstakingly progressive mother, is right: these girls are “smart, fabulous… and also brave”, perpetually living their best and most intelligent lives, even when they’re just putting their coats on. Boys of the touchstone Superbad and American Pie era are remembered mainly for their salacious minds, but it’s so satisfying to see the Booksmart girls listen to their sexual desires without being governed by them; Molly isn’t shamed for having a crush on a boy she’s always spoken down to, and the fact that Amy likes girls launches her story, but doesn’t limit it.
Theirs is the best kind of friendship, because it unquestionably offers full support without sacrificing any laughs either. Molly and Amy have a code word for a “drop everything, I need you” moment – and Booksmart gives the very same gift to an audience that’s been force-fed performative Girl Power for so long. After all this effort, we’re finally invited to enjoy the party too.