SXSW 2019 – Review: BOOKSMART Is Hilarious By-The-Book Fun

FIRST IMPRESSION

A charming, if somewhat formulaic and unrealistic debut from Olivia Wilde, Booksmart is absolutely hilarious and features two great lead performances.
Writing
Directing
Acting
Technical Merit

Booksmart is a new coming-of-age comedy that serves as the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde. Described as a “female Superbad”, the film follows two high school seniors on the day before their graduation as they set out to have a crazy night of all the fun they missed in high school. It made its debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

The story of the movie is definitely very fun, but also somewhat straightforward. The film definitely follows the tropes of the single night subgenre of comedy, and as such, the beats of the story can easily be predicted. Furthermore, the arcs the characters follow are nothing new either. That being said, the perspective which the movie brings is quite interesting and refreshing.

One of the more satisfying aspects of the film is its character development. Both of the leads are extremely compelling and sympathetic. Although the movie’s depiction of high school is very much unrealistic, the characters themselves do feel like real people. It is easy to see people you know or have known in each of the characters.

booksmart skate
Nico Hiraga stars as Tanner in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, BOOKSMART, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures,

The film does an excellent job of maintaining its sense of humor throughout, largely because the narrative propels the characters from one funny situation to another. Put simply, the movie has a ton of comedic energy, which is the main reason it works so well. Only once does the film slow down to get sentimental, and that was necessary for the movie to deliver its message.

Additionally, the film has quite a bit of emotional resonance, particularly in regards to the relationship between the two best friends at the center of the story. The conflict they experience may be somewhat contrived, but it is also effective. Other relationships in the movie, like those between the girls and their parents, aren’t quite as well developed as that between the two of them.

booksmart friends
Kaitlyn Dever stars as Amy and Beanie Feldstein as Molly in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, BOOKSMART, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures.

The film’s ensemble is certainly very talented. It seems like Beanie Feldstein was born for this role. After her phenomenal supporting turn in Lady Bird, Feldstein takes the spotlight in this movie and does an excellent job. Hopefully she will continue to get more substantive leading roles like this. She is complemented well by Kaitlyn Dever, who is hilarious in her supporting role. The chemistry between Feldstein and Dever is completely believable. The supporting cast is filled with funny bit parts, like Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, and Skyler Gisondo.

In technical terms, the film was mostly strong, but it does have some of the issues typical of directorial debuts from actor-turned-directors. One of the issues with the movie’s execution is that it is sometimes over-indulgent and too artsy, especially during the dream sequences. (Not the doll scene, though — that was hilarious.)

Overall, Booksmart was a very enjoyable and mostly well-made film. Although it is a bit formulaic, the refreshing perspective and hilarious humor make it stand out regardless.

Booksmart debuted at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. It opens in theaters May 24.

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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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