The other reason the two movies keep being uttered in the same sentence is because Booksmart’s star is Beanie Feldstein, the younger sister of Jonah Hill, whose breakout role was Superbad 12 years ago.
The strength of both movies are the relationships at their core — in Superbad it was Hill and Michael Cera’s Seth and Evan, the semifictional stand-ins for screenwriters Seth Rogen and his friend and creative partner Evan Goldberg.
In Booksmart, it’s Feldstein’s Molly and Kaitlyn Dever’s Amy, two mates who are so synchronised, watching them riff together is symphonic.
Director Olivia Wilde suggested Feldstein and Dever live together during production to really cement their chemistry and friendship.
“We both love country music, we both love a good cookie, and we love a good pancake,” Feldstein tells news.com.au of her and Dever’s time as roomies.
“We were just really in synch about wanting to get cosy and get to know each other and hunker down and do the work together. There is no Molly without Amy, and there is no Kaitlyn without Beanie or Beanie without Kaitlyn.”
Feldstein says even though she’s the one giving Hill “all the life advice” — spoken like a true younger sister — her brother did tell her that he and Cera were equally tethered during Superbad.
“He told me and Kaitlyn that he and Michael spent every single day together before they started filming Superbad and that was really inspirational to us. It’s something Kaitlyn and I did when we were living together, and it was really fun knowing they did the same thing.”
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Speaking to Feldstein, her enthusiasm and sincere positivity is obvious. She talks about being inspired and grateful to have been involved with Booksmart and with Wilde — “I was enthralled with everything she was saying” — and that kind of energy is reflected in the movie.
Booksmart is a better movie than Superbad — it’s cleverer, it’s tighter and its emotional resonance is stronger.
It has an undeniably female voice through its leads, its director in Wilde and its four female scriptwriters, but it’s hardly a coy or passive movie. It can be as gross-out or whacked as any movie focused on teen boys.
It unapologetically makes its focus these two female characters who are ambitious, smart and sometimes intense — the kind of characters that in other eras and in other contexts would’ve been judged as too know-it-all or annoying. Think Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick in Election.
For Feldstein, her pop cultural touchpoints were Paris Gellar from the Gilmore Girls, Lisa Simpson and Roald Dahl’s Matilda, all conscientious girls or young women who valued hard work and intellect, and who were misunderstood by those around them.
“Often you see these characters in films and TV shows and they’re depicted alone,” Feldstein says. “They’re not depicted with friends, they’re these loner girls who we’re told are lacking in some way.
“What I love so much about Booksmart is you get not one but two of these characters and they’re such good friends but they’re not competitive with each other. They’re really unique in their intellect and they’re passionate in different ways. But they’re not alone on their mission.
“Even though they have these fierce characteristics that are sometimes not celebrated, because I think the movie opens with us dancing and having so much fun together, you know right away that you’re in the hands of really brilliant women that are also really fun and happy.
“I think Molly and Amy are characters you fall in love with immediately.”
Booksmart is part of a wave of Hollywood stories centred on young women and their perspectives, which also includes Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Kay Cannon’s Blockers.
But Feldstein points to filmmaker Amy Heckerling, the director of Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, as someone who has been telling these stories for much longer.
“Amy Heckerling is such an inspiration to Olivia, and her movies are such an inspiration to the cast of Booksmart. She was such an incredible trailblazer in that way. So I think it was possible 20 years ago to make these types of movies, but only Olivia could’ve made Booksmart.
“I think the beautiful thing about these past couple of years is we’re adding to the number of stories about young women and that is such an incredible, beautiful thing, and I’m such a fan of all those movies.”
Feldstein has a relatively short career, having only graduated from university four years previously.
The 26-year-old actor has mostly played supporting characters previously, most notably in Lady Bird as the best friend to Saoirse Ronan’s Christine and now also in the TV reboot of What We Do in the Shadows.
Booksmart looks to be Feldstein’s big breakout. Her next role is the lead in the movie adaptation of How to Build a Girl, based on Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel about a teenage girl growing up in the UK and discovering her sexuality.
Another female-centric story with a female director (Coky Giedroyc) at the helm.
Booksmart is in cinemas now
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