‘Booksmart’: Not Entirely By The Book

In the past couple of years, we have been very lucky to be blessed with a number of great coming-of-age films. In 2016 we got The Edge of Seventeen, we were then given Lady Bird in 2017, and just last year were given Eighth Grade. It wouldn’t be fair if the yearly tradition of relatable, joyful and fun coming-of-age movies came to an end, and it seems Olivia Wilde agrees – because this year she gave us none other than Booksmart. These types of films tend to be very cliché in nature, though not in a bad way – this is really what gives them their charm. They tend to follow a similar structure and focus on a teenager who is embarking on a new chapter in their life and all the pages in between. Though it can be possible to predict the entire plot of these movies through the trailer alone, these films all have a spark of individuality that helps them stand out amongst the rest. For example, The Edge of Seventeen tends to focus more on its protagonists’ mental health, whereas Lady Bird on the other hand is more concerned with its protagonists’ relationship with her mother. The little on-going stories that these films take you on is what makes them so emotionally enthralling and why you leave them with a smile on your face. Plus, growing up isn’t the same for everyone; something that is the most relatable thing in the world to one person may be completely unknown to another, which is why everyone usually has one coming-of-age film that they hold closer to their hearts and like a little bit more than the rest of them. However, although these films tend to differ in their intentions, there is always one little detail that remains the same; the main character is always straight. Or at least, there used to be.

Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde, is the newest addition to the coming-of-age club and it follows best friends Amy and Molly who are just about to graduate high school. It soon becomes apparent that they made a pact with each other at the start of the year that they wouldn’t party, they wouldn’t socialize and they wouldn’t engage in typical high school activities to focus on studying and getting into the best college possible. Their plans are brought to a sharp halt when on the last day of high school, they find out that everyone in their year has managed to get into the best colleges, while living the party life at the same time. So, they then make it their mission to ensure that they have one final night of both studying and partying in high school to prove to everyone that they aren’t as lame as might they seem.

Though this may sound like your typical coming of age plot,there is something very special about Booksmart. The distinctive glimmer of individuality of coming-of-age movies shines brighter than ever in Booksmart, which is absolutely bursting with color as one of the main characters, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), is actually a lesbian. Now, I’m not saying that there has never been any LGBTQ+ characters in a coming-of-age movies, because there has. We had Love, Simon (2017) which followed the life of a gay teen coming to terms with himself. An even more recent example would be The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) in which we are shown a young lesbian and the obstacles she has to face with regards to modern day homophobia. Hey, if you really want to dig deep, even one of the most classic coming of age movies, The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2010) has its very own gay character in Patrick. But again, Booksmart is different. The thing that stood out to me and solidified Booksmart as my own new personal favorite coming-of-age film is the way in which Amy’s sexuality is so naturally presented. In the films I mentioned earlier, the LGBTQ+ characters represent the confusion, repression and pain that can come with being a gay teen, and while I acknowledge that this is a very important and prominent part as growing up as gay, it is not the only part. There is a point where we stop being confused, ashamed and scared, and we actually begin to live.  We have never been given a gay main character who simply just exists without all the rain on the way to the rainbow. In other words, gay viewers have always been on the outside looking in.

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Booksmart has finally turned the tables and given us a gay character who represents the good stuff. Amy is the same as all these other characters we’ve seen before, but the only difference is, she likes girls. There is a scene where her and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are sitting at the lunch table and Amy’s attention is stolen by a mysterious girl. We are now at the point in any other coming-of-age movie where we would get a classic slow motion shot of the cutest guy in the school, and we do – but this time it’s of a cute girl instead. This was the moment that revealed to us as viewers that Amy is in fact gay, and what I love about it is there is no big reveal, there’s no gasp and it’s just no big deal. In fact, it’s very normal. Even though this is such a small moment, it made me incredibly happy to watch. Instead of a character I see myself in being presented as an example of society, she’s presented just like everyone else. The whole movie continues with the same momentum and we follow Amy, the same way we did all the other characters, as she tries begins to understand growing up and experience new things. We witness the fun stuff, the rebellious stuff and the almost unbearably awkward stuff, all while Amy is never defined by who she loves. A thing that even furthers this is how her best friend, Molly, approaches it. She doesn’t make a big deal out of and she doesn’t treat Amy any different – she is accepting, loving and understanding. This kind of representation is so incredibly important is because it gives off the message to the gay teens of today that they will experience just as much joy as they will heartache.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing the LGBTQ+ films that focus exclusively on the struggles of being gay, because I’m not. The truth is these films are just as important. It is important to convey the problems that we undergo to people who wouldn’t understand it otherwise. It is important to provide a strong character who overcomes all of the obstacles and inspires people just like them. But I guess the point I’m making is that just like straight teens, gay teens also relate to different things. We’re not all just one person who lives the exact same life, and none of us experience just hardship alone. Olivia Wilde provided us with a new, fresh character that we can cringe, laugh and cry with. It is so heartwarming to me that gay teens today have a creative and hilarious film that will fill them with pride, without being reminded of the ugly stuff that we all want to forget. I truly believe that Booksmart has opened up a new era of representation in which minorities are a lot more than just the oppression that shaped them, and I hope that this inspires the many coming-of-age films that will follow it.