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Review: Olivia Wilde's 'Booksmart' is a modern classic

Matt Shiverdecker, Special to the American-Statesman
A scene from Olivia Wilde's "Booksmart," directed by Olivia Wilde. [CONTRIBUTED]

Coming-of-age and end-of-high school stories are plentiful in film history. Each decade gets one or two movies that really stand the test of the time and permeate popular culture long after they are released. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is not only destined for that kind of cult status, but it lands in the here and now as a modern comedy classic.

Beanie Feldstein (“Lady Bird”) stars as Molly, an aggressively academic student who has maintained her edge at the top of her class by refusing to break the rules. Alongside her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), they have managed to ace their classes and support each other, but they’ve never given themselves the opportunity to just be teenagers and have some fun.

Molly’s tightly-wound persona begins to break once she finds out that people she considers to be far beneath her are also headed to Ivy League schools in the fall. It’s a realization that she could have loosened up a little and still ended up with the outcome that she had always dreamed about.

On the night before graduation, Molly and Amy decide to remedy this by going to a big party. The only problem? They’re so far out of the cool-kid loop that they don’t even know the address to go to. A genuine comedy of errors begins as they take every rule they’ve ever followed and throw it out the window so that they can let loose before high school ends

The adventure to get to the party and have a perfect last night of high school is as absurd as it is hysterical. From a murder-mystery party to a giant empty yacht to an awkward Lyft ride from their principal (Wilde’s husband Jason Sudeikis in a brief but amusing turn), these young women stay determined to shed their reputations against all odds.

The screenplay, credited to four female writers led by Katie Silberman (“Isn’t It Romantic”), is wildly creative and shines a light on established tropes and turns them on their head. At its core, this is a story that celebrates female friendships, but it’s not afraid to flesh out the supporting characters and even give us wonderfully realistic and strong queer roles that don’t rely on stereotypes.

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Another key component that makes this film successful is the incredible casting. Allison Jones (“Freaks and Geeks”) helped put together an ensemble, mostly of fresh faces, and every single character feels realistic. They’re the people you knew in school, and they all inhabit these characters effortlessly. Noah Galvin (“The Real O’Neals”) and Billie Lourd (“American Horror Story”) might be a little too old to still be portraying high school students, but they both steal every scene that they’re in and, next to the leads, help deliver some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Combine the stellar cast with a killer soundtrack and beat-driven score by Dan the Automator, and you have a recipe for grand success. If you combine the sincerity of “Can’t Hardly Wait” with the raunchy comedy of “Superbad,” you’ve got a better idea of what to expect here, but this is actually better than both. It’s almost unfathomable that this is anybody’s first feature. “Booksmart” is a perfectly constructed and confident debut that already has me excited to see what Wilde does next.


Grade: A

Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Noah Galvin, Billie Lourd.

Director: Olivia Wilde.

Rated: R for strong sexual content, language throughout and drug use/drinking.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo South, Barton Creek, Cedar Park, Evo, Galaxy, Hill Country, Metropolitan, Moviehouse 620, Moviehouse Lantana, Pflugerville 20, Round Rock, Sky Dripping, Southpark, Violet Crown, Westgate.