It’s been over a decade since Jonah Hill and Michael Cera helped set the bar for teen comedies in Greg Mottola’s Superbad. And in a lot of ways, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut feature Booksmart takes a similar vulgar-laden approach but infuses it with a refreshing female perspective that gives the film its own sense of identity. We’re all well aware of Wilde’s onscreen abilities but behind the camera and in tandem with the underrated talents of co-stars Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird), Booksmart serves as a fearlessly funny and welcome addition to the 2019 SXSW festival lineup.
It’s the day before graduation and best friends Amy (Dever) and Molly (Feldstein) are up to their usual shenanigans as they head to their last day of high school ever. But it’s here that the inseparable pair are reminded of their years-long failures, where Amy is still yet to be intimate with a female after “coming out” during sophomore year, and Molly’s all-work and no-play approach to being the Valedictorian hasn’t actually separated her college prospects from most other classmates. Yet, for these forever friends, tonight is different. Tonight is their final chance to live it up with no regrets before they embark on their separate futures.
Booksmart has no issues ushering in the laughs thanks to a well-used R-Rating filled with female masturbation jokes and other irreverent raunchiness. Refusing to masquerade as anything more than a female-centric buddy comedy, its easy to ignore the film’s disregard for purposeful character development. Instead, we’re guided down a hysterical series of obstacles and resolutions that unfold in an eerie familiar fashion. This direct parallel to the events in Superbad mildly spoils the onslaught of hilarity that ensues, but there’s enough laughter throughout to erase the unpleasantry. And much like elder comedy’s everlasting effect on the careers of Hill and Cera, don’t be shocked if Booksmart becomes a similar vessel that helps launch Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein into the mainstream. There’s something to be said for the film’s wading in familiar waters, but Olivia Wilde’s unapologetically racy and laugh-filled debut still stands as a winning comedic effort from this year’s festival lineup.