Booksmart

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Booksmart
"Sure, the familiar kids are here - the athlete bro, the gay guys, the class clown - but the film holds up assumptions to the light, highlighting why it's dangerous to make them and showing empathy for all concerned."

The bawdy high school comedy gets a modern makeover in this directing debut from actress Olivia Wilde. The film's focus is Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), a couple of BFFs who love the sense of superiority their studious nature gives them over the rest of their classmates - until they realise they've been missing out and try to cram all the excitement into one night.

The set-up could be from dozens of high school comedies, but this one drags the idea bang up-to-date to offer a tale that is in tune with the times and has a warm and inclusive message, even if it is iced with the sort of edgy humour that was previously a hit for the likes of American Pie.

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Wilde isn't interested in the usual business of 'laughing at' characters. Instead, along with her quartet of female writers - Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman - she probes ideas of identity. Her film is all about looking beyond what one character terms as "performance". Sure, the familiar kids are here - the athlete bro, the gay guys, the class clown - but the film holds up assumptions to the light, highlighting why it's dangerous to make them and showing empathy for all concerned.

All types of sexuality are treated as unremarkable - a real step forward - and nobody is a bad guy/gal, here, they're just all muddling along with the reputation they've garnered over the years, an idea that Wilde gently dismantles over the course of the film. There's also a matter of fact approach to sexual attraction but one which also shows how clumsy these encounters can be and how that, in itself, doesn't have to be fatal however deadly it feels at the time.

From the start, we care about Molly and Amy because it's so obvious how much they care about each other, from their geeky verbal sparring - one of their codewords is Malala - to the way they try to look out for one another. The wider cast is full of great characters and sharply timed performances, in particular Billie (daughter of Carrie Fisher) Lourd's Gigi, and Skyler Gisondo, who seem set to be a sort of Magic Pixie Party Girl and Rich Dweeb to start with but who, like everyone here, are soon shown to be a lot more than that.

Whether girl sex talk would be quite this frank all of the time is a bit debatable and some of the pair's party odyssey borders to words sketch show skits - in particular, a brief drug trip and a taxi interlude - but the central pairing is a cracker and there's classy characterisation all round. It's funny because, beneath the humour, is a the ring of truth as loud as a school bell.

Reviewed on: 24 May 2019
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Two studious high school BFFs decide to seize a last chance to party before graduation.
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Director: Olivia Wilde

Writer: Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman

Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga, Austin Crute

Year: 2019

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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