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It’s the night before graduation. The kids have spent four years stuck in classrooms and doing homework and participating in extracurricular activities to get ready for college. So now they want to party. And it’s gotta be legendary.
It’s a setup nearly as common as the coming-of-age story itself. But Booksmart, Olivia Wilde’s crackling, audacious directorial debut about two straight-A students looking to cut loose, manages to feel fresh even while trafficking in these tropes.
Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are best friends who have studied hard to the exclusion of a social life, focused on getting into a top school. But on the final day of classes, Molly—after overhearing the popular crowd make fun of her while she was in a bathroom stall—finds out that the seeming screw-ups got into good colleges, too. She nearly hyperventilates with rage, convinced that she and Amy wasted their time doing nothing but studying. So she wants to go to a party that night thrown by a guy she otherwise regards as an idiot. “Nobody knows that we are fun!” she tells Amy in her typical class president diction.
Thanks to Molly lying to Amy’s parents, they’re free for the night. But there’s a problem: They don’t know where the party is, and no one is answering Molly’s texts. So an adventure begins that first takes the pair to two other parties (lame), the library (natch), and the backseat of a pizza delivery guy’s car (hilarious) before they finally reach their desired destination.
Penned by four women (including Isn’t It Romantic writer Katie Silberman), Booksmart’s raunch and laughs rival those of the bros version of its party-before-graduation story, Superbad (starring Feldstein’s older brother, Jonah Hill). Porn and masturbation are topics, as is getting Amy laid, which obviously isn’t characteristic of female-led comedies, where the humor tends to be more delicate. And Amy’s sexuality—she’s into girls—is played like it’s NBD: Like any heterosexual in this setup, she’s got a crush who will be at the party, and when she starts making out with the class mean girl, it’s treated like any other unexpected consequence of a night of drinking and emotional roller coasters.
The cast is uniformly exceptional down to the bit players, which include Jason Sudeikis as the school principal and Billie Lourd as an unhinged spoiled classmate. But Dever and particularly Feldstein are the breakouts, nimbly handling the film’s rapidfire humor: Dever’s Amy is the introvert who just wants to go home after each escapade, while Feldstein’s Molly is the brash one who’s determined to get to the party regardless of dead cell phones and lack of directions. Their characters frequently buoy each other (another trait you don’t often find in female comedies) yet have a push-pull dynamic, one that inevitably leads to a blowup.
Wilde maintains a swift pace, and the film’s 97 minutes fly by. These are endearing characters who you’ll want to spend more time with; it’s a testament to Booksmart’s success that it ends before you’d like it to. You don’t even have to limit its comparison to other teen comedies: By any measure, it’s an easy A.
Booksmart opens Friday in theaters everywhere.