‘Booksmart’ SXSW Review: The Comedy Might Be a New High School Classic

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut tells the story of best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) approaching their high school graduation. The characters are as the title suggests, booksmart, and they pushed aside things like parties to achieve their goals. However, Molly realizes their focus on studies might have led them to miss out on the full high school experience so she decides they should go to a popular party the night before their graduation. There’s just one problem, and that is they don’t know how to get there.

Booksmart
Booksmart | Annapurna Pictures

The movie is in the vein of a lot of movies before it like Can’t Hardly Wait, Dazed and Confused, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and more. However, this comedy subverts many things and is therefore refreshing. That stray from the norm very much has to do with who the characters are from personality to sexual orientation.

Molly is the class valedictorian and is very proud of that. She doesn’t let others make her feel bad for legitimately caring about the school’s budget or having a detailed plan to one day become the youngest justice ever elected into the Supreme Court. Young women could take something from that, but the movie quickly points out that Molly isn’t perfect.

Amy, on the other hand, is a lesbian who came out in the 10th grade. She is proud of her sexuality, but is still trying to figure things like sex out like any other teenager. That is certainly inspiring too, but she is also pushed to grow.

The two bookish girls could have easily been praised in the story for “not being like the other girls.” Instead, the story doesn’t pit them against their less studious classmates or shames them for being studious themselves. The message that every character should be respected no matter their choices is quite clear, but it’s hardly a preachy movie.

The comedy in it is genuinely hilarious which isn’t surprising given the cast. Billie Lourd is the movie’s secret weapon and is delightfully outrageous throughout. Jason Sudeikis and Jessica Williams play teachers who also weirdly play a part in the big adventure. You won’t just catch yourself laughing at the awkward situations and conversations in the movie. The fun lies also in the visuals.

Most scenes are filled with color and people. In the beginning of the movie, school is let out and the students start throwing water balloons and confetti. The balloons themselves add a lot of color to the chaotic hallway scene, but the fun fight is also slowed down and we get to see the impact of one of our characters getting hit in a much more impactful way. Those kind of creative decisions lead to a lot more interesting shots and surreal moments throughout the film. It bravely isn’t afraid to break format in order to show how the characters are feeling.

Music is a large part of the movie because of the party plot. However, it is also used to break from format in order to convey the rollercoaster of teenage emotions. That means going from Santigold’s recent hit to full on classical music.

Ultimately the movie is mostly about best friends going on a journey together then transforming because of it. Feldstein and Dever make it easy to fall in love with their characters’ friendship from the first moments we see them together. The rest of the cast also measures up and almost every high school character gets a moment to shine. It wouldn’t be surprising if this movie becomes a new high school classic.

Read more: ‘Little Monsters’ SXSW Review: Lupita Nyong’o Proves She Can Handle Any Messy Situation

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