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Review: ‘Booksmart’ Is ‘The Breakfast Club’ for the 21st Century

June 7, 2019

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut film is one of the summer’s best offerings.

By Andrew Warrick

Photo via Annapurna Pictures 

The year isn’t even halfway over, but there’s no question that “Booksmart” is one of its best movies. It has some of the funniest scenes in the “high school” genre, period, while its characters give John Hughes a run for his money. Yet, more astoundingly, the film consistently eschews cliches. “Booksmart” first appears to follow familiar territory, introducing two brainiacs who decide to party on the night before graduation. Yet the plot soon throws tradition out the window, and is all the funnier for it.

In “Booksmart,” the nerd can be the bully, and the jock can love Harry Potter. There’s also a refreshingly nuanced take on LGBT affection and desire that is almost unheard of. The care and intelligence brought to this movie ensures that the story and its characters will live on long after the credits roll. The leading duo, Beanie Feldstein’s Molly and Kaitlyn Dever’s Amy, is one for the ages. From their first scene together, the viewer will be hooked. The chemistry between the two never fails to prompt a smile, and, sometimes, even tears.

Billie Lourd is hysterical as an unhinged character named Gigi, whose wild, yet simultaneously childish, mania has shades of “Pulp Fiction’s” Mia Wallace and the “Toddlers and Tiaras” star Honey Boo Boo. Jason Sudeikis is great as a principal who just wants the year to end, and Jessica Williams shines as a hip, down-to-earth teacher named Ms. Fine (who isn’t afraid to party with her students).

Though this is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, the filmmaking is practically perfect. The script’s complex characters and rapid fire jokes never fail to hit their mark, and the cinematography captures the joyous exuberance of Southern California from warm, sunny days to pulsing, neon nightlife. Wilde’s command of music is impeccable and combines with the gorgeous cinematography to create intoxicating sequences straight out of the best music videos. Wilde’s skill elevates what could be been a memorable, better-than-average comedy to something uncannily touching.

There’s a scene where Amy, Dever’s character, wanders through a party. While the movie leads you to believe the much-talked-about event will be the typical wild catharsis of most teen movies, it’s something different entirely. Amy is drenched in water and pale with disappointment. The camera follows her in a long take as she walks past people drinking, making out and dancing. Her face is in the center of the frame, and the audience is confronted with her weariness and heartbreak, even as everyone around her is exuberant. It’s authentic to the point of painful, beautiful to the point of perfection. The emotion in this scene is rare even for the most serious of dramas. Its rawness is almost unparalleled in this genre, and it’s not the only time “Booksmart” bursts through convention to become something truly special.

“Booksmart” will surely be one of the summer’s best offerings. It’s exceptionally rare to have a movie so funny and so emotionally resonant, so well shot and well acted, while avoiding cliches and tropes along the way. The immense hilarity and humanity gives “Booksmart” the chance to become a classic, even generation defining like “The Breakfast Club.” This is a movie to bring your friends to and recommend to anyone who wants to laugh and be moved. It’s not to be missed.

Andrew Warrick is a student at the University of Michigan. He is majoring in creative writing and history, and is a part of the Residential College. He also leads the RC’s Creative Writing Forum. When not watching movies, he loves hanging out with friends, especially in the spectacular Ann Arbor, becoming addicted to novels, and listening to Bowie records. Some of his favorite movies are “Cloud Atlas,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Twin Peaks: The Return,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Alien.”

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