REVIEW: “One of the Strongest Directorial Debuts in History” – ‘Booksmart’ (2019)

Some films are filled with kinetic energy that has you leaving the theatre full of life. Something that hits a raw nerve deep down that only the truly greats know how to exploit. Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart does just that. She has filled her film with so much comedy and heart that it will last as one of the strongest directorial debuts in comedic history.

After working hard to make it through high school with the best chances possible to succeed in life, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) realise everyone else made the grades too, while partying . So, for one last night before graduation, the two girls plan to take the night by storm, and with a lot of lost time to make up for, they take things seriously. With incredible direction from Wilde we feel just as included in their celebrations, as though we have known them our whole lives.

Something that immediately stands out is the incredibly infectious chemistry that Dever and Feldstein share on screen. Being on-screen for almost every scene is a big ask, but they easily have the talent to pull it off. Kaitlyn Dever brings a shy charm to her role as Amy: a gay teenager looking to explore her sexuality. Dever has a talent for longing glances which show her inner desires while her outward demeanour tells a different story. Beanie Feldstein, on the other hand, is powerful, loud and proud in her ways. Her roles in Lady Bird and Neighbours 2 have proved to help her comedic timing, as here she nails the delivery every time.

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) in Booksmart (2019)

The supporting cast shines strong too, with great performances particularly from Skyler Gisondo and Jason Sudeikis. One particular scene involving Sudeikis and a phone on loudspeaker left the audience at the screening gasping for air with laughter. But the actor who nearly steals the entire show is Billie Lourd, who, after great turns in both American Horror Story and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, shows that she has a lot of range. While her role as Gigi may be outside of the main story arc, it sure does steal a lot of scenes and bring about constant laughs. When you have such a strong and memorable supporting cast it helps to elevate your leads performances even further, giving them plenty to bounce back against.

And that’s where Wilde has truly been able to succeed, bringing constant laughs to this film without getting stuck on stale old gags. Everything here feels fresh and relevant while still being very aware of the films that have brought us here. The plot of teenagers wanting to party, get laid and enjoy life has existed for decades now but with Booksmart, Wilde has made it all seem new by looking at it with fresh eyes. Not only does Wilde show her love of teen comedies but also of cinema as an art form. Multiple times the film takes a moment to breathe, allowing Wilde to add artistic camera movements that circle around the party or even divert into full-on dream sequences reminiscent of the great movie musicals. Wilde has expertly crafted this movie so that it not only makes you laugh at the bizarre events this pair find themselves in, but also takes the time to talk about issues of sexual identity, sisterhood and finding your place in the world. Not a lot of directors are able to accomplish so much so successfully on their first effort.

Booksmart (2019)

What makes Booksmart stand out from the others of its type, though, is the realness of it all. Even though we see moments of pure visual artistry, whether that be in claymation or slow-motion, this movie hits you in the heart by bringing back memories of being in school. Even if you weren’t in Amy and Molly’s situation your entire school life, there was a time when you felt like an outsider and wanted in on being a part of the group. So when at the end, the two best friends get their triumphant moment worthy of punching the air, we want to celebrate with them.

With such a fully formed debut, it’s hard not to fall in love with Booksmart. It offers laughs, tears and heart by the bucket-load and is sure to be a hit. With talent both in front of and behind the camera, Booksmart is sure to be looked back on as the kicking-off point for a lot of long lasting careers and I really cannot wait to be along for that ride.