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Film Review: Booksmart

2 June 19 words: James Hill

Olivia Wilde's directorial debut offers a fresh take on the coming of age story... 

Director: Olivia Wilde

Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams

Running time: 102 mins

Coming of age comedies are a rare thing to get right. Many focus too much on comedy and neglect their characters, whereas others stifle characters with shoddy story-telling. But when done well, they evoke a sense of nostalgia in an audience like no other genre can.

Booksmart is the directorial debut of American actress Olivia Wilde, who provides a fresh take on the genre through many forms. Firstly, there’s a deliberate lack of parents, with Molly’s never shown and Amy’s only featuring in a couple of scenes - Booksmart is bound together by the bond of two best friends. The chemistry between the two relatively unknown actresses (Dever and Feldstein) is believable, with a genuine warmth throughout. And make no mistake, there is humour aplenty. Not just your typical high school vulgarity but also sharp wit punchily delivered across the entire cast.

Secondly, its fast-paced direction and comedic timing of cuts is evident from the opening scene, when Molly and Amy dance beside Amy’s car before heading off to their high school in L.A. It’s the day before their graduation and while they take pride in their academic achievements, it’s apparent their class-mates do not. It quickly dawns on Molly that they only have one night to convince their class-mates that they can party.

For a directorial debut Olivia Wilde showcases a confidence that belies her experience

To rectify this predicament Molly suggests to Amy that they track down the address of class-mate Nick’s aunt’s house, where the best party in the area is taking place. Only one problem: due to their lack of interaction with most of the class-mates they don’t actually know the address. What follows is a frenetic foray into the night. On a couple of occasions they arrive at what they presume is the party, only to realise that they’ve been duped into attending inferior events. After unknowingly taking drugs, things also take a strange turn when Molly and Amy are transformed into Barbie dolls, with Amy marvelling at her perfect plastic figure. When finally arriving at Nick’s party, the film takes a more emotional turn, with Molly and Amy’s vulnerability and friendship tested. The conclusion is bittersweet but perfectly encapsulates an unbreakable friendship, acted with purpose and energy abound.

While Booksmart maintains a mainstream appeal, it has an indie aesthetic and isn’t afraid of celebrating the values of this generation, from female empowerment to sexual identity. The theme of aspiration is also not just limited to the main characters and Olivia Wilde purposely keeps stereotypes to a minimum to keep class-mates relatable.

For a directorial debut Olivia Wilde showcases a confidence that belies her experience. It is evident that she wanted to portray the young adults taking control of their lives and the stellar soundtrack amplifies this. From militant pop songs to poignant indie-pop Booksmart is the result of Clueless, Easy A, and Ladybird, getting drunk and partying like there’s no tomorrow.

Did you know? Olivia Wilde said that The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused and Clueless were the inspiration for this film.

Booksmart is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 6 June

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