I’m starting to grow weary of using the term ‘coming of age movie’ in reviews because it has the unfortunate effect of pigeonholing a film into one specific category that doesn’t do it justice. Booksmart sure frames itself like one but if you look deeper this is a film for the people who have long since moved past it, the ‘grown-ups’ who can take this with a pinch of salt while embracing the little moments that make this something real and innocent.
Booksmart follows two childhood friends who are about to graduate high school. Both Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have spent their formative years concentrating on their futures and when they see all the things they didn’t do they decide to embrace the ‘real’ high school experience for one night to make up for everything. Naturally, this doesn’t quite go to plan and a night of partying turns into something much more.
From first time director Olivia Wilde, Booksmart is a film obsessed with excess. Everything from the outlandish side characters to the excessive hallucinations is designed to paint a picture of exuberance. The joy of this overindulgent nature is how it provides a smokescreen to the films real goals. The classic elements of teen comedy conceal Amy and Molly’s secrets while also befitting them with a sense of bravado that feels natural to these teenage best friends.
In telling a story of superficial frivolity, Wilde cuts to the core of these two friends differences by having them avoid their problems. Forcing them to confront their issues feels less important than letting them fester and settle for only the audience to see. This mixture of quiet contemplation and explosive confrontations is naturally childish, in a way films like Mid90s doesn’t seem to grasp. Trying to get inside the minds of its characters isn’t important, telling a story is.
However, this is a film of nostalgia too, a tale designed for those who have since moved past this stage in their lives. This feels like a retelling of past stories, a night fondly remembered by people who have since forgotten the intimate details. Wilde uses extravagance to show that the high school experience is always more exciting in our head, in the memories we make with people we have since drifted from. The way the camera overemphasises the entrances of characters points to the notion of the people from your past you didn’t really know but in hindsight, they work better as an idea.
While it opens with some unfortunately laboursome exposition and dialogue designed to set story over character, Wilde sits back and relies on the talents of Dever and Feldstein more as the film goes on. Both give credence to a friendship that seems natural and lasting, one full of stories to be told that will be as outlandish as this one. Growing up has its dangers and its joys but Booksmart never takes it as seriously as Hollywood pretends it is.
While some will point to a message of taking risks and putting yourself out there, this is ultimately about looking at your past differently, embracing your it for what it is and not letting regrets bog you down for what comes next. Wilde is interested in where her characters are going, where she is going and where we all are. While it is nice, funny and entertaining to look back, especially in this rapturous raunchy comedy, it might just be more exciting to look forward because you might just be able to tell stories about bigger and wilder moments moving forward.