Not a lot of films can make you nostalgic for the experiences you’ve never had. Although actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut “Booksmart” exists in the fantasy world where high schoolers look like they’re 25 and even the nerds dress to the 9s, it is still an incredibly impressive and surprisingly melancholy ode to growing up. It’s also funny as hell.
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are dynamite as Molly and Amy, best friends who’ve spent all of high school working their hardest but never getting the full experience, which Molly realizes was for moot when she discovers that the cool kids she derided got into the same good schools and got good grades. Thus begins her and Amy’s journey to attend one last party and finally be seen as cool, and for Amy, it’s a chance to finally make her move on her crush.
All of this plays out with far more attention to detail than one would expect, especially given it’s Wilde’s first time in the director’s chair. A lot of comedies – especially teen comedies – are often shot quite flatly, but Wilde shows a good eye for what makes a good shot and Jason McCormick’s cinematography is quite beautiful, which makes a difference in crucial moments between the characters.
It also helps that the characters are an absolute joy to be around. Feldstein is an absolute star and just so funny, and Dever, who I feel as if I’ve been seeing in movies forever but is only just now getting her big break, is also so funny but is equally excellent in her scenes of heartbreak and drama. There is a sense of improvisation and actual friendship between them that makes easy to follow them through their odyssey.
The script, a joint effort of four female writers – Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman – captures that distinct feeling of being on the brink of the rest of your life and how teenagers in high school actually interact with each other. All the in-jokes and horseplay and how most kids know everyone but aren’t friends with anyone. It all adds up to something that gave me a sense of melancholy and nostalgia, even as I was laughing.
And you will be laughing, frequently. Wilde and her cast are incredibly adept at delivering the comedy naturally and letting the jokes breathe, and nothing is overplayed or overstaying it’s welcome. You can’t really go wrong with a supporting cast that includes Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, and Jessica Williams.
If this first film is any indication, Wilde is a director to watch. She is already a talented actress but proves herself to be a dynamic and fresh filmmaker as well. I’m sure you’ve already heard it from everyone but run, don’t walk, to see this film.