Booksmart

This movie is getting so over-hyped. Critics are saying it’s the best film of the year. They’re calling it one of the best high school flicks ever. It’s basically Superbad with girls. The Jonah Hill character is played by his sister Beanie Feldstein. The Michael Cera character is played by Kaitlyn Devers (who reminded me of Ellen Page in Juno). This isn’t as good as Superbad, Mean Girls, Easy A, Love, Simon, Ladybird, Generation X, Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and so many other teen coming-of-age party films. But, who cares? It’s still a blast, and spending an hour and 45 minutes with these two lovely girls is a fine way to enjoy your evening at the theatre. And speaking of Lady Bird…it’s great that a terrific supporting character in that movie was given a leading role to show her talents.

What bothered me about Bridesmaids, which everyone called “The Hangover with women” is that although it had many funny scenes, I didn’t buy adult women acting that way. It was a pleasant surprise that all these characters acted like high school kids. It was also a pleasant surprise that it wasn’t mean-spirited. When Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is in a bathroom stall, and people come in and make fun of her…it’s not about her weight. It’s about the fact that she has a horrible personality. In another scene, when a gay kid goes to the front of the class to talk about his “Shakespeare in the Park….ing lot of CVS” they don’t make fun of his sexuality. They’re mocking the event, or the mere fact that somebody is getting up in front of the class to bore them about something they don’t care about.

It was a bit worrisome when you see the script was written by five different people. That’s usually the sign of a disaster, but Olivia Wilde is very self-assured behind the camera, and it’s great that she gives a lot of her characters interesting things to do. They’re not one dimensional, and she’s rather generous. Maybe she picked up what made her underrated film Drinking Buddies work.

The story involves the last few days of high school. Amy and Molly (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) strut around smirking at the other students. After all, Molly is going to Yale. Amy is going to Botswana to help the less fortunate. Even the principal (Jason Sudeikis) cringes when he sees them approach.

Just as Jonah Hill forces the meek Michael Cera into partying and doing crazy stuff in Superbad, Molly does this to Amy. She’s a shy lesbian, who has a crush on a tomboyish skater girl. When they get invited to a party she’ll be at, they figure they have to go. This is because they found out all the slacker kids that just partied and didn’t seem to care much for school…are actually going to some prestigious colleges.

The adventure of their getting to the big party at the cool guy’s aunt’s house yields mixed results. First, they’re tricked into attending a swanky yacht party that a rich kid throws. He’s played by Skyler Gisondo, who was funny in the remake of Vacation four years ago.

Nobody is at that party. Well, one crazy girl is. She’s played by Billie Lourd (daughter of Carrie Fisher), and she steals every scene she’s in (although I got tired of her by the third act). It’s that typical character that is wacky, but funny, shows up everywhere and always has the strongest psychedelic drugs (which creates a rather clever stop motion segment with  the girls as Barbie dolls).

That party isn’t all that interesting, but I loved the next one they attended. George (Noah Gavin) has taken over his family’s home to host a murder mystery theme party, and the way he acts as a maniacal director of the event, is hysterical. Almost everything that happens there has you laughing, and I wished that would’ve been the party they stayed at.

When they do finally make it to Nick’s (Mason Gooding, son of Cuba), Amy and Molly are surprised to see that they’re welcomed in. Again, a lesser movie would’ve made the cool kids say something snarky, or the music would’ve stopped as everyone wondered who invited them. Instead, they say things like “The class valedictorian showed up. We’re honored.”

My wife loved this movie. I enjoyed it, but…there were too many scenes that felt overly familiar. For example, one seen has them being picked up by an uber, that’s being driven by the principal (which reminded me of the awkwardness of teacher Tina Fey working as a TGI Friday’s waitress to make extra money in Mean Girls). When they figure they should watch some pornography to bone up (no pun intended) on a situation that may arise, it’s so predictable and hacky that a problem with the sound means their principal ends up hearing it, too.

I didn’t buy the fight that breaks out between the two (or that people would record it with their cell phones, which has been done to death). Not sure also why the music ends up drowning out what they’re saying. It reminded me of the lazy writing Woody Allen did in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, when Javier Bardem tells a joke at the dinner table and the music and narration come up before we ever hear the punchline. It’s either lazy, or just a poor choice by the director.

In the much better film Lady Bird, when Saoirse Ronan’s character starts drifting away from best friend Feldstein, it feels much more authentic. Things can be more subtle and don’t always have to be a big blow out fight.

I felt the same way when Amy does hook up with another girl at the party, and how that blew up in her face in dramatic fashion.

Jessica Williams (who is terrific on The Daily Show), is wasted as the cool teacher who likes the intelligent girls. It’s just hard to buy that she’d show up and party with these kids (which would get her fired).

I also had the same problem with this movie that I had with Juno. Sometimes the dialogue is a lot more clever than high school students are, but just like with Juno…it’s sharp enough that you can overlook that because you enjoy the witty banter.

The movie has one of the best personalized license plate ever and one of the funniest dance sequences ever. It reminded me of how much I loved the dance scene in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion over 20 years ago. Oh, and one of the stars of that — Lisa Kudrow — has a few funny scenes as a parent in this (along with dad Will Forte).

The soundtrack worked perfectly for this. It was nice to hear Parliament, Salt-N-Pepa, LCD Soundsystem, and a terrific use of DJ Shadow’s “Nobody Speak” while a hot rod pulls into the graduation ceremony at the last minute.

Oh, and it has what is easily the best karaoke scene since (500) Days of Summer. It’s going to make Alanis Morissette so glad she let her song be used in this film.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

 

 

 

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