Booksmart (2019) by Olivia Wilde
Review by Paige Taylor
I have to warn you: Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut has got me feeling some kind of way. I feel like I should be astride a noble steed, riding town to town while blowing a viking horn. “What news have ye?” the townspeople cry as they gaze upon my mare’s golden mane and my strong, muscular thighs. And I, flush with triumph, unravel a long, eloquent scroll, and begin my tale of Booksmart (2019).
I’m not joking when I tell you I am positively vibrating with giddy emotion over this movie. The experience of watching it was a fucking thrill. Once the laughter started, the room slowly transformed into sheer amusement-induced delirium and that energy sustained itself for the rest of the runtime. When I left I felt like I was getting back on the school bus after spending a field trip secretly drinking with all my friends.
The premise is something we’re all familiar with: a couple of friends solemnly swear to have a night of partying they’ll never forget. The difference is that this movie was written, directed, and starring women, and I wasn’t aware how striking that change would feel until I found myself constantly howling with laughter in that movie theater. The delightful chemistry between Feldstein and Dever made it feel genuine, like the characters were all people I knew and adored. There’s also this layer of kind playfulness that weaved itself around every joke and this is something that is very valuable to me in the comedy genre. Personally, I’m not a fan of mean-spirited humor, and I feel like any movie that wants you to point and make fun of its characters is a tired point-of-view – like a child laughing at ants burning up under a magnifying glass.
This movie doesn’t want its audience to feel superior. It’s told in a way that makes you love the characters, and all the hijinks and trouble they get into ultimately amount to an inside joke between close friends. There’s also a Breakfast Club-style message where the girls realize that this identity they’ve created for themselves as the “smart girls who are above partying” is a shallow one and everyone around them is just as smart and deserving of respect as they are. Ultimately, the very core of Booksmart is one of affection and warmth, and that alone is something to revel in by itself.
Happy sunshine feelings aside, I have to talk to you about the comedy in this, because that right there is the jam you need to slap on your biscuit. I am completely blown away by how consistently hilarious the writing is. The girls may consider themselves "goodie two-shoes, but they constantly provide an endless supply of masturbation-, lesbian-, and vagina-related humor and ya girl is here for it. The comedy is fresh and modern and apparently Wilde didn’t allow scripts on set, which would explain all the hysterical, nonsensical lines that felt like they were made up on the spot. Every side character is also fantastic with a big, big emphasis on Billie Lourd’s performance of Gigi, and I will be very surprised if her role in this doesn’t instantly rocket her into mainstream celebrity status.
I also have to applaud Booksmart’s portrayal of Kaitlyn Dever’s character, Amy. Amy is a lesbian, and we never have to see her sexuality used for cheap drama or a corny beacon of inspiration – she’s simply allowed to be, and as someone who has seen a lot of movies with LGBT+ characters I can’t tell you how refreshing and needed that is. Though it’s important that we keep having discussions on the issues and struggles minorities face, sometimes you just want to see yourself represented in a world that accepts you without question, and Booksmart delivers.
Above all, Booksmart is a movie about exploring the unpredictable landscape of being a young adult and how rich and joyful it is when you get to do it with your best friend by your side. There are going to be a lot of big-budget, familiar titles when this movie is released but I need you to see this one. I need you to support women-made comedy. I need you to lose your shit laughing at Billie Lourd’s side-splitting nonsense. I need you to help normalize LGBT+ characters. And as I roll up my scroll and mount my steed, I look towards the sun as its dwindling rays glisten on my tear-streaked face.
“I need you to get your ass and go see Booksmart (2019),” I tell you. And you watch as I ride into that sunset, the sound of my viking horn blaring into the distance, and you know in your heart that I am right.