Olivia Wilde stuns with amusingly authentic directorial debut ‘Booksmart’


Courtesy of IMDb

Trevor Tyle, Editor-in-Chief

Trying to understand the trials and tribulations of high school is complicated, to say the least. Trying to coherently condense those struggles into a piece of art is damn near impossible.

But Olivia Wilde managed to do it.

The art in question is a film called “Booksmart,” which serves as Wilde’s feature directorial debut. It’s the story of two high school seniors — Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) — who have prioritized academics at the expense of their social lives to ensure success beyond high school.

The girls have accepted their collective reputation as pretentious buzzkills — that is, until they learn their seemingly “inferior” peers were all accepted to prestigious universities, too. Beginning to fear they’ve missed out on the fun high school experiences their classmates had, Molly and Amy attempt to shed their “goody two-shoes” standing by partying the night before their high school graduation.

Yeah, there’s not a whole lot about this film that sounds fresh or new. But it also doesn’t need to be either of those things in order to work. Let’s be real — the teen comedy isn’t exactly a new concept, but rather than limiting itself to such genre tropes, “Booksmart” cleverly expands on them in a meaningful and entertaining way.

But thankfully, “Booksmart” also isn’t some super deep, preachy statement on cherishing your time in high school. (In fact, even though its politically outspoken feminist protagonists — one of which identifies as lesbian — give the film plenty of opportunities to be preachy, it never is.) Instead, it boasts an authenticity that keeps the narrative grounded and real. There are wild acid trips, drunken bathroom hookups and, as you can expect, a whole lot of drama. This film perfectly encapsulates the harsh realities of high school, which is what makes it so well-done.

And at the forefront of it all are a plethora of rising female badasses that are going to make — or continue to make — names for themselves in Hollywood.

In spite of her impressive acting career, I can’t help but wonder why Olivia Wilde’s directing abilities were kept from the world until now. Her understanding of her characters — ironically, all misunderstood outcasts, in this case — is astonishingly better than most screenwriters or directors daring to tackle a coming-of-age comedy of this proportion. Her direction is truly remarkable, matched only by her brilliant leading ladies.

The chemistry between Dever and Feldstein is explosive (no pun intended) and only intensifies as the film continues. “Booksmart” has been compared favorably to “Superbad” — which stars Feldstein’s brother, Jonah Hill — and “Lady Bird,” which finds Feldstein herself in the role of the supportive sidekick opposite Saoirse Ronan’s titular character. But in this film, Feldstein is the star, and manages to rise above these comparisons with grace and grit.

Dever, on the other hand, has a slightly larger filmography consisting of mostly supporting roles. “Booksmart,” however, puts her directly in the spotlight, giving her the opportunity to exude her star power like never before.

And while the dorky duo of Molly and Amy are front and center here, I can’t review this film without acknowledging the incomparable Billie Lourd, whose role as the strange and screwy Gigi is hilarious enough to make her notoriously funny mother (the late, great Carrie Fisher) more than proud.

As a whole, “Booksmart” is a bit ridiculous, but perhaps that’s because of how real it feels. (And let’s be honest, in a teen comedy, what could be more ridiculous than watching Regina George get hit by a bus?)

“Booksmart’s” brutally honest depiction of high school, layered underneath ridiculous jokes about blowjobs and boning, is refreshing, to say the least. It functions like a genuine high school experience, allowing its attendees to denounce the bad parts, celebrate the good, and most importantly, leave with a smile on their face.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars