Still circumscribed by the usual suspects in an American coming-of-age comedy: first-love crushes and misunderstandings, falling out among best friends, inadvertent trippy experiences, humiliating sex (routinely yoked with bodily excretions), and all-night-long partying (routinely yoked with materialistic showboating), actress-turned-director Olivia Wilde’s debut feature BOOKSMART has a clear predecessor, Greta Gerwig’s critical darling LADY BIRD (2017), but it doesn’t possess the latter’s refreshingly serious-minded charisma.
LADY BIRD alumna Beanie Feldstein plays Molly, a pudgy wonk and valediction in her forthcoming high school graduation, she and Amy (Dever), an out lesbian, are thick as thieves. After twigging their swotting endeavor doesn’t necessarily earn them the one-upmanship she takes for granted (a rather problematic precept that roots profoundly in America’s culture), obviously hardened party-goers and high SATs are not exclusive anymore in the script’s idealized notion, Beanie sways Amy to grasp their last chance to have fun on the eve of their graduation, namely, to gatecrash their jock classmate Nick’s (Gooding) fancy party, of which Molly has an arrière-pensée.
Sounds like an upgraded (with more inclusivity and an normalized lesbian through line), gender-swapping version of Greg Mottola’s SUPERBAD (2007), BOOKSMART’s plot device is perversely antiquated (four scribes are credited here), the duo’s dilatory arrival of the said party - preceded by two other ones, an unattended party (even with the lure of a free iPad in the gift bag) on a yacht arranged by their wealthy schoolmate Jared (Gisondo, brazening out a gawky rich kid’s blues), and a murder mystery party where characters are delectably tricked out - is simply because they don’t know the right address, in our information-overload digital era, that is anachronistic.
But one must give credit where credit is due, Wilde does exhibit several wow factors here: no fat-shaming or homophobia lurking insidiously in the corners, a creative animation snippet can bowl audience over for its amusing explicitness, and a beautiful underwater sequence manifestly shows how to film someone is wrong-footed by something totally predictable, plus the two leads are well-chosen, although Feldstein might overcompensate Molly’s unorthodox sex appeal with an undue aggressiveness and nailing her colors to the mast too eagerly, Dever sinks deeply and viscerally into Amy’s oscillating psyche with more nuances and conviction. Lastly, that “Malala code” should be espoused as a real thing, fittingly emblematic of unalloyed girl power in our era.
referential entries: Greta Gerwig’s LADY BIRD (2017, 8.0/10), Greg Mottola’s SUPERBAD (2007, 7.8/10); Bo Burnham’s EIGHT GRADE (2018, 7.1/10).