Let’s face it. The coming-of-age, high school graduation comedy/drama has been done to death. And then some. And yet, in the hands of a gifted new filmmaker, apparently, it can be something fresh, something special, a thing of beauty. Case in point: Booksmart, starring Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, a coming-of-age, high school graduation comedy/drama about a couple of high achievers who suddenly realize their academic focus has prevented them from having any actual fun… and they have one night before graduation to fix it. (Ironically, these smart girls are dead wrong. They’ve been having more fun with each other in their cute, witty, supportive friendship than most high schoolers could even imagine.) First-time director Olivia Wilde has plenty of experience acting in films, all the way back to 2004’s The Girl Next Door (the one about the prostitute, not the one about the real-life porn star—and they say there are no good roles for women!?). But with the whip-smart Booksmart, Wilde is making her debut behind the camera. The cynical among us might therefore have expected the film to be choc-o-bloc with newbie mistakes and predictable scenarios. It isn’t. It’s what we critics like to call “remarkably assured.” And, given that Wilde has chosen the oft-done coming-of-age, high school graduation comedy/drama as her proving ground, her success is even more impressive. Booksmart is pretty much flawless, in fact, like Leftfield’s first album or Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. It’s a film that justice in a short review of this type cannot serve. (Eek! Where’s my editor when I need her?). You really need to watch and experience Booksmart to appreciate the outstanding performances—and palpable chemistry—of its young leads, the well-rounded supporting cast (barely a villain among them), the sparkling music of its soundtrack, the take-no-prisoners script (by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman). Speaking of which, Wilde—the star of dubious B-movies Tron: Legacy and Drinking Buddies to name but a couple of her 50-odd acting gigs—was once quoted as saying “I’ve worked with a lot of the greatest guys in the business, and now I am slowly working with more and more women. We don’t really get to work together, the girls, so much.” Well, she has now, and the result is funny and poignant and, yes, pretty much flawless.
(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth