By TheAmazingSpidey 7 Comments
TAS Reviews: Booksmart
Booksmart is a coming of age comedy movie directed by Olivia Wilde, and starring Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Jason Sudeikis and a couple of other people. This movie reminds me a bit of Lady Bird, which was also a coming of-age directorial debut of an actress, and one which I had no interest in seeing and didn't even know existed until I saw the great reviews and word of mouth.
The quality of a coming-of-age comedy hinges a lot on the strength of it's leads, and in Booksmart, Olivia Wilde has found herself two strong, multi-faceted leads in Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. They're both extremely charismatic to watch, share an insane amount of on-screen chemistry together, and they both knock their comedic timing out of the park. There's also a running gag in the movie with the two leads hurling compliments at each other in an aggressive manner, and it's such a fantastic little quirk that gives these characters so much more personality.
But above all, their greatest strength, which I believe is the single most profound aspect of any lead in a coming-of-age film, is their vulnerability. Yes, they're funny, but there's also something profoundly human about their acting, and they invite you to explore the flaws and imperfections of their characters.
Which is another thing Booksmart does well: presenting to audiences two leads, both of who are loveable and delightful to spend time with, but also exposing their flaws and their weaknesses, which deepens our connection with the characters and makes them all the more captivating to watch, and letting us spend time getting to know them for two hours. It's the humanity of these characters which allows us to feel the emotions the movie wants us to, and that goes for the comedic moments, but also the more emotional, deeper moments of the movie.
Which are not only extremely well-acted by our leads, but also beautifully directed by Olivia Wilde, whose sensitivity and affection for these characters seeps throughout the movie, resulting in some pretty impactful emotional moments, particularly later on in the movie. There's a scene that exquisitely captures the feeling of loneliness, isolation and sadness an individual can feel in a crowd, and it's one of the more emotionally resonant scenes I've seen all year in cinema. The
The casting director also did a fantastic job casting people who added realism, in that no one, even the "attractive" characters in the movie, are attractive in a Hollywood sense. Sure, it's nice to see actors and actresses on screen who are pleasing to the eye, but it can often take you out of a movie, and that wasn't an issue here. Though I guess a lot of that is also owed to the makeup department.
Another thing I loved about this movie was it's portrayal of LGBT+ characters. It isn't the inclusion of LGBT+ characters in this movie that I think is noteworthy (that's just something perfectly natural). It's the manner in which it's portrayed. In every movie, the character's sexuality is a point of conflict, with the character trying to hide it from their parents, or portraying the character's sexuality is some plot-twist, or having a storyline centered around the character accepting their sexuality, but in this movie, it's just "yep, this character is Lesbian" and it was so refreshing and normalising to see.
Though it goes without saying that I enjoyed Booksmart, I didn't find it to be as inventive or as great as I would've hoped. I'm not the guy who insists that every movie reinvent the wheel, but parts of this movie feel like it's "going through the motions" and hitting the story beats required of a 21st century Lady Bird movie, regardless of whether these moments are genuinely earned or well-paced. There's a well directed, well-acted argument between two characters in the movie, but the conflict between them is just resolved a scene later. Just like that. The conflict ends up feeling inorganic, merely there to tick off another box in a checklist, as opposed to being compelling and necessary for the story.
This isn't the only scene where this happens, and the entire-third act consists of too many moments that feel unearned, or things that happen which are unnecessary, and exist purely to humiliate or make things worse for our character, but not in any way that progresses them meaningfully. These scenes exist to manipulate audiences into feeling emotions, and although the job of a director is, above, to be a manipulator, these scenes often feel forced, unnecessary and unearned.
This is subjective, and your experiences with this will differ based on culture and experiences, but I personally didn't find the movie all that hilarious. I enjoyed the chemistry between the characters, and a lot of lines put a smile on my face, but as far as coming-of-age comedies go, nothing comes close to something like Superbad or even Easy-A. Olivia Wilde does a great job with the direction overall, but at times, the editing is a little jarring, and there are parts that felt like a music video, or even a Disney Channel Original movie in the way they're edited, but these moments are far and few in between, and it does improve later on in the film.
Booksmart is not the slam-dunk I hoped: it feels like it's going through the motions a lot of the time. Certain events, particularly in the 3rd-act, exist to tick-off boxes in a list as opposed to being an organic progression of the story. Thankfully, the charisma of it's two-leads is enough to help the movie overcome it's narrative flaws, and it results in an entertaining watch. But above all, my biggest takeaway from Booksmart is just how much promise Olivia Wilde holds in terms of a career behind the camera.
There's a profound sense of empathy to the way she directs scenes, from the impeccable use of music in emotional scenes, to the way she uses sound, or a lack of it, to add emotional heft, to the use of one-shots to add to the sense of tension and realism to the conflict between characters. Although I didn't love Booksmart, I'm excited to see where she goes next. Because with a better screenplay and a better handle on storytelling principles, I believe she could go on to create great art.