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‘Booksmart’ Earns Top Marks

by Kristen Milburn

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, “Booksmart,” is right in so many ways. The film centers on two high-achieving high school seniors, Molly and Amy, as they attempt to shed their “book smart” ways at a party the night before they graduate high school. The film is funny, inclusive and rings true to everyone who went through an awkward phase in high school; essentially, everyone in general. However, the biggest thing the film gets right is the fact that Molly is wrong.

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Olivia Wilde directs Kaitlyn Dever in her directorial debut. Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

Molly is seen wearing turtleneck, blazer and the disarming confidence of someone who probably memorized SAT words for fun. Played by Beanie Feldstein, she’s the student council president we’re used to seeing in film; except she’s not bossy, she is the boss.

Molly responds to being made fun of by saying she’s happy with her studious choices to bust curves on tests instead of moves at parties because she’s headed to Yale University in the fall. She thinks that the popular kids act in ways that would make it impossible for them to go to a good college, but her Yale-bound bully openly admits that she took part in some R rated behavior, yet, “also got a 1560 on the SATs.”

This flips the tired convention of nerdy kids finally finding their way in teen comedies around. You can’t make a successful movie about a nerd being more than just their stereotype but still stereotype all of the popular kids, and “Booksmart” does an excellent job crafting an ensemble of characters you’re familiar with but not bored of. There are rich kids, actors, skaters and jocks, but they all have more defined characteristics that work to show Molly that there is more to everyone than meets the eye.

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Molly and Amy, played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, respectively, race to their graduation. Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

“Booksmart” continues to break down stereotypes with the dynamic friendship between Molly and Amy, who is played by Kaitlyn Dever. There is never any competition between the two women and the most they ever try to outdo one another is when they give each other exceedingly detailed and specific compliments in a way that would make Leslie Knope proud.

They tease and jokingly punch one another while also supporting each other unequivocally, making them a great duo for a buddy comedy. You can truly see these two characters as friends as opposed to two characters meant to offset each other just to get big laughs. Amy’s parents think she is dating Molly, which would feel like a really cheap joke if it weren’t for the genuinely rich relationship between the two characters.

Amy is a lesbian, but her conversations with Molly about it are less about liking women and more about navigating weird sexual experiences for the first time. Molly and Amy discuss these experiences with a candor that is almost exclusively reserved for straight men onscreen. They own their experiences with a feminist maturity while also discussing them with the giggles and cursing you would expect from high school students.

“Booksmart” is proof that queer women can talk about sex onscreen and that they can stumble over their words and laugh as they do, because that’s what happens in real life, even if most films don’t show it.

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Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) go to a party in matching jumpsuits and a fanny pack. Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

I was excited to see “Booksmart” and to finally see people who looked like me in a style of film that has been universal for other people for so long. I felt so much joy seeing myself reflected in these messy, funny, intelligent and silly characters. Everyone can enjoy “Booksmart,” and I think that’s the point.

Wilde made a film that is so good it isn’t just for women or just for audience members who finally see themselves represented in film. It’s for everyone, because films don’t just have to be all about white dudes all the time.

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