By the time that Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) finally make it to the high school party of the night in Booksmart, they’ve already been through an odyssey. The best friends have braved hallucinogenic strawberry-induced trips, the horrors of amateur theater role-play and a poorly planned pizza delivery heist — all in the name of gaining one “seminal fun anecdote” before graduating and leaving each other behind for the first time.
At first blush, the film’s premise cleaves closely to other coming-of-age “night to remember” setups. But while Booksmart is unafraid to pay homage to the generation-defining teen classics that audiences know and love, part of the magic of it all is watching actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde craft her own riotously poignant ode to the Generation Z teens of the present.
We’re first introduced to inseparable overachievers Molly and Amy on their last day of high school. The girls’ dedication to school has earned them straight As, and their elite plans to attend Ivy League schools are validating — Molly, the self-righteous class president, and Amy, a wry wallflower, have isolated themselves from peers that, on a surface level, are blasé slackers. But after Molly says as much to her classmates, she’s horrified to find that many of them also got into top universities ... without swearing off beer pong in the process. With a reluctant Amy in tow, Molly sets off on a vendetta to prove to the rest of their class that they’re just as capable of letting loose every once in a while.
Olivia Wilde’s previous work on music videos for The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Edward Sharpe and the Magic Zeroes makes her a prime fit for a film that often plays like an episodic romp through different high school ecosystems. Her penchant for building punchy, distinctive environments easily flesh out each high school kid beyond the trope-y parameters that Molly, Amy or the audience have come to expect.
The only antagonist in Booksmart is the countdown to graduation, which imbues the story with a playful compassion for its characters that extends far past the two leads. There isn’t a weak link across the cast, but the fairy godmother-like wild child Gigi (scene-stealing Billie Lourd) and cheeky outsider Jared (Skyler Gisondo) are standouts.
No one falls neatly into the high school categories that drove classics like The Breakfast Club, and every supporting player gets their own payoff before the movie’s break-neck 100-minute runtime is up. In a nice change from many young adult stories, issues like social hierarchy or sexuality (Amy is an out lesbian, and enjoys the one delightfully awkward hookup scene of the film) aren’t the main points of contention.
Ultimately, though, it’s Molly and Amy’s aggressively strong bond that pushes things to the next level. The film could easily fall apart if their friendship wasn’t believable, but Feldstein and Dever’s chemistry is so lived-in that the ridiculous mishaps they find themselves in seem almost inevitable. The duo’s crude musings about masturbation and persistent compliment battles over their respective going out looks paint an irreverent picture of Gen Z female friendship that is hard to come by in most movies, let alone the male-dominated genre of raunchy teen comedies. Booksmart poses the persistent question of how today’s teenagers will hold up in the adult world they’re being thrust into, and by Olivia Wilde’s estimation, the kids are definitely alright.