There’s nothing like that moment in time, so close to being an adult, but still mucking around in juvenile antics with abandon. There’s always a dream girl or boy to chase, a nerdy reputation to shed and a last chance to prove something.
Dazed and Confused, American Pie, Can’t Hardly Wait and Superbad are only a small sample. The list goes on and on.
Now there’s Booksmart. In many ways, it trumps most of its predecessors, injecting a fresh perspective into a genre with so many limits. This is right up there when it comes to teen comedies.
Clever, hilarious and relatable, Booksmart is such an appealing little movie with engaging performances from its young cast, led by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever.
It sounds like such a cliche but you will literally laugh and cry, and flash back to your own teenage days with fondness, not horror.
Too often coming-of-age stories focus only on the worst aspects of being a teenager whereas Booksmart is more joy and celebration. It’s a proper laugh riot.
Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) are the “smart” girls. They worked hard through school, earnt great grades and places at prestigious colleges.
Molly is kind of like Tracy Flick but without the crazy mum and annoying Manifest Destiny-esque complex. She knows what she wants (to be the youngest person nominated to the Supreme Court) and how she’s going to get there.
Then, on the last day of school, the night before graduation, Molly finds out all the other kids, the ones she wrote off for being slackers and not-serious-enough, also got into excellent colleges. And they had a ton of fun along the way.
So she’s determined that on the final night of high school, she and Amy will have fun. They will go to a blowout party and they will have that quintessential high school experience.
What follows is a raucous evening with awkward misunderstandings, close-calls and all the typical shenanigans.
But what makes Booksmart feel different are these characters. Molly and Amy are not your usual movie nerds — they’re sassy, full of personality and opinions, and they don’t take crap from the “popular” kids.
Feldstein and Dever have sparkling on-screen chemistry as the besties — their exchanges are whip-fast and natural. The pair actually lived together during the production and what you see committed to film reflects the push-and-pull of a deep friendship.
In that sense, they’re like a modern-day Romy and Michele — but with the contemporary sensibilities and cutting humour that come with a MA15+ rating.
This means Booksmart features the kind of “coarse language” and frank, occasionally smutty, discussions of sex that every teen indulges in. This is where the comparison to something like Superbad feels apt.
Directed by Olivia Wilde, Booksmart strikes the right tone and she handles the shifts from serious to fantastical to irreverent with an adept hand.
It has a subplot about Amy’s queer sexuality that’s managed with sensitivity — which is not something most of Booksmart’s teen comedy predecessors can say.
In addition to Feldstein and Dever’s winning performances, it also features Billie Lourd in a wildly comedic role, plus a cast of lesser-known youngsters including Diana Silvers, Skyler Gisondo, Molly Gordon and Mason Gooding.
The adults, including Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, Jessica Williams and Jason Sudeikis, only flit in and out of the story because the focus isn’t on them, but their turns are still memorable if mostly played for laughs.
Booksmart has come in for some criticism that it’s an unrealistic, almost-Pollyanna take on teenhood because of its progressive characters, its optimistic tone and its relative lack of angst and jeopardy. Even the “bullies” aren’t really bullies. It’s like the opposite of 13 Reasons Why.
That’s part of Booksmart’s appeal. Here is a teen movie that says that teenagers can sometimes behave without thinking but are on the whole, good people who will grow up to make a positive contribution.
If you’re an adult watching Booksmart, for once, you don’t have to despair about the next generation. These kids are smart, witty and confident, not self-pitying and insufferable.
Maybe that’s unrealistic but you know what else it is? So. Much. Fun.
Booksmart is in cinemas now
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