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Josh Reviews Booksmart

February 14th, 2020
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Booksmart depicts the last 24 hours of high school for best friends Molly and Amy.  The two girls have worked hard in high school and gotten into good colleges.  But when Molly realizes that the party-loving classmates she always looked down on were also able to get into good colleges, without sacrificing fun the way she and Amy did, she is horrified.  She decides that she and Amy have to have some fun on their last night before graduation, so they make a plan to attend fellow classmate Nick’s house-party.  But getting there won’t be as easy as they think, and a wild night of shenanigans ensues.

Booksmart is the first film directed by Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy, Cowboys & Aliens, Drinking Buddies, Her).  Ms. Wilde has done a terrific job; you’d never know this is her first feature.  She’s able to get tremendous performances out of her ensemble of young actors.

Beanie Feldstein was terrific in Neighbors 2 and Lady Bird, and she does a great job in her co-leading role here.  She’s very funny, and she is excellent at playing super-intense.  Her performance here skirts the edge of being a bit one-note with her self-superior attitude in the film’s early going, but Ms. Feldstein is always able to keep this character funny and real.

The film’s biggest discovery, for me at least, was co-lead Katlyn Dever as Amy.  Wow, I was bowled over by how great Ms. Dever was in the film.  Whereas Ms. Feldstein was playing something of a caricature (albeit a very funny one), Ms. Dever’s Amy felt incredibly real.  I really admired her subtle, naturalistic performance.  For much of the film, Ms. Dever’s Amy is the straight-person to Ms. Feldstein’s Molly, but when the time comes, Ms. Dever kills in some comedic moments in the film’s second half.  And both she and Ms. Feldstein are fantastic in a wrenchingly intense argument the two girls have late in the film.  (That moment is an interesting gear-shift from raunchy comedy into real drama.  It’d be easy to screw up, but Ms. Wilde and her actors sell the moment, and make it into one of the most memorable moments of the film for me.)  I love that Amy’s sexual orientation is treated as a complete non-issue by the film, and all of the characters in it.

Ms. Wilde has assembled a strong supporting cast.  I wish they were all better fleshed out, as I’d have loved to have been allowed to get to know these kids surrounding Molly and Amy on a deeper level in the film.  But the cast does solid work with what they’re given.  Billie Lourd (who has popped … [continued]