They’re ‘Booksmart,’ Clueless and Utterly Hilarious
Molly and Amy are budding academic overachievers who revere Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elizabeth Warren and Malala Yousafzai. (“I’m calling a Malala” is their code for “Get me outta here.”)
Molly is so Type-A that she corrects the spelling of graffiti scrawled on the walls of her high school’s unisex bathroom. Amy is such a social justice warrior that she plans to volunteer in Botswana, where she will help women make their own tampons. Personifications of all work and no play, these scholastic Brahmins and social Untouchables are thisclose to making it through their senior year.
In “Booksmart,” the euphoric, lightning-paced comedy that marks the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, these best friends and know-it-alls get schooled in the 24 hours between the last day of their senior year and commencement.
Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have had their noses buried in books so long that they assumed their classmates didn’t care about school. In the hours before graduation, the besties belatedly realize that unlike them, their peers did care—but not only about school. This epiphany bursts their bubble of superiority, both literally and figuratively, and is accompanied by their getting hit by water-filled condoms that explode in their faces. Both actresses are marvelous, as is the supporting cast that includes Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Jessica Williams and Billie Lourd.
Typical of Molly’s and Amy’s social cluelessness is that they have fake IDs purchased not to buy liquor but to go to a 24-hour library. (Yes, there are all-night libraries, but they tend to be at colleges and medical schools. In any event, this is a farce, and there is a startlingly funny scene set in an all-night library.)
How is it that their classmates got into top-tier colleges and had social lives, too? Molly, the alpha of the two BFFs—and high-school valedictorian, natch—unilaterally declares to the timid Amy that on graduation eve they should party as hard as they have studied. Interestingly, our heroines don’t live on social media or for the Internet; they use both as informational tools.
It’s an R-rated movie, which means there is profanity and sexual candor. But despite Molly’s longing looks at a Sk8er Boi and Amy’s at a Sk8er girl, the sex-positive film conspicuously lacks human nudity and sexual objectification.
There is, however, a bit of Barbie-type objectification. After the girls’ ubiquitous classmate, Gigi (Lourd, daughter of Carrie Fisher), slips our heroines psychedelic-infused strawberries, the young women hallucinate that they possess the endless legs and centerfold proportions of the popular dolls. And that they know they shouldn’t be OK with it, but they are.
This is a droll way of satirizing political correctness and being PC, too, making for perhaps the most hilarious sequence in a recent movie comedy. It is also the result of four female screenwriters and a female filmmaker having some fun with received ideas about the idealized female body. And nota bene: The film earned the “gender-balanced” stamp of approval from ReFrame, the advocacy group dedicated to gender parity on the screen and behind the camera.
Since its premiere at South by Southwest in March, observers have described “Booksmart” as a fem-centric version of “Superbad.” The two films do have a family connection in that Jonah Hill, one of the high school seniors in the latter film, is the real-life elder brother of Feldstein. Seems to me, though, that “Superbad” was about bros out to lose their virginity, and “Booksmart” about besties out to gain social savoir-faire. Anyhow, I need to see it again, stat, because I was laughing so hard that I missed a few jokes.
It’s a bit beside the point to compare “Booksmart” to “Superbad.” Wilde’s film is supergood.
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