Booksmart - 2019
Director(s): Olivia Wilde
Writer(s): Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman (written by)
Cinematography by: Jason McCormick
Editor(s): Jamie Gross
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, Molly Gordon, Diana Silvers, Eduardo Franco, Victoria Ruesga, and Mason Gooding
Olivia Wilde has been in Hollywood for over a decade working steadily as an actor. And while she hasn't found that career-defining role, she might have just delivered her career-defining film as a director on her first try. Booksmart is a coming of age film that follows the same story beats of the movies that came before it (Superbad the most straightforward comparison) but elevates it by adding smarter comedy, healthier friendships, and heart behind each laughter. Let's talk about it.
The story follows Amy and Molly (Dever and Feldstein) on the eve of their high school graduation. They did everything right in school, always studied and never partied to get into the universities they dreamt about all their lives. When they learned that the rest of their classmates that spent the year partying also got into the same universities, they feel left out and decide to use their last night as high schoolers to party like their classmates. One of the things that most impresses me about this film is the fact that it has four credited writers (Fogel, Halpern, Haskins, and Silverman) yet it feels like a singular voice driving the plot. The story flows flawlessly, with not a single dull moment in the runtime, as each act packs in the same amount of jokes, unlike many comedies that shift gears in the third act to be dramatic or deliver the "message." That is not to say that Bookmark shies away from dramatic moments, as the character grow thanks to the challenges met through the night, and it earns its emotional punch.
Quick note: another aspect that I found refreshing and needed is how inclusive the film is, without coming across as forced or "look at us we are with the times." They told a story about 2019 for what it is, inclusive, and it works.
I was impressed at the balancing at the scrip does between the leads and the supporting characters, as every single one has at least one joke that killed - a testament to the cast and Wilde that got such great performances from many unknowns. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein have fantastic chemistry between them, and each embodies their characters entirely making their friendship seem genuinely genuine. My favorite bit between them is when they complement each other's clothes, channeling Jonathan from Queer Eye. Skyler Gisondo has perfected the lovable loser that tries too hard, and Billie Lourd was given a tough task of making an over the top character seem relatable and grounded.
By looking at the comedies of the last decades, one can argue that it is the "easiest" genre to tackle on your first go around as a director. With many of them being shot almost like a sitcom, with multi-cam flat cinematography and visually bland scenes. However, Olivia Wilde, along with cinematographer Jason McCormick, came to play and they delivered a visually compelling and fun film, filled with unique transition, camera angles, use of color and styles that took me by surprise. They even had a musical and Claymation sequence within the runtime, that was hilarious and fit seamlessly. Jamie Gross editing was key as well, as many jokes where landed thanks to key transitions. My favorite sequence, in terms of Wilde use of the color and visuals, was Dever's underwater exploration of the party unfolding around her - the sense of freedom and floating in the joy of letting go.
Booksmart is smart, funny, and full of heart - in a landscape of Hollywood looking for excuses as to why comedy no longer works within this "politically correct" world Booksmart manages to tiptoe the line and deliver more laughs per minutes than any other comedy in the past few years. Dever and Feldstein are bonafide comedy stars, and Wilde may have always been destined to be behind the camera as a new director with a blindingly bright future ahead. Looking forward to what this trio has in store.
Booksmart is Why I Love Movies.
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