A little more than 11 years ago, Superbad came out, and amid the general appreciation for that classic of teen raunch, some people fairly asked where was the corresponding movie about teenage girls? Shouldn’t they have the surreal, sex-and-drugs-laden adventure over one night of partying as they come of age? It took a while, but that movie is here — oh, is it ever here — in the form of Booksmart, worthy of a place in the pantheon of great teen comedies.
Our adventuresses are Molly (Beanie Feldstein), class president and valedictorian at her L.A. high school with an acceptance from Yale, and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), her openly gay best friend and fellow high achiever with an acceptance from Columbia and a reputation as Molly’s sidekick. On the last day of school, Molly is incensed to find out that all the losers and slackers in her class have themselves gotten into Harvard, Stanford, and Georgetown without sacrificing their social lives the way she did. Instead of writing them off as future federal bribery cases, Molly dragoons Amy into accompanying her out, shifting her focus from becoming the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg to proving to her classmates that she is fun and cool. Their target is a house party the night before graduation, where the boy and girl whom they have respective crushes on (Mason Gooding and Victoria Ruesga) just happen to be attending.
This is the first feature film directed by Olivia Wilde, and it’s better than any movie she has ever acted in. Though the story veers from episode to episode as Molly and Amy are repeatedly sidetracked en route to the party, Wilde manages to sustain the anarchic energy as the girls barrel through this evening. How many of this film’s set pieces could be the highlight of another movie: a drug-induced stop-motion interlude when the girls hallucinate themselves as plasticine dolls, a supremely awkward encounter when their school principal (Jason Sudeikis) turns out to be their Lyft driver, an ill-advised attempt to carjack a pizza delivery boy (Mike O’Brien), the choreographed dance number that ensues when the girls finally reach the party. Somewhere in there comes Amy’s first sexual experience with another girl, which ends in a mortifyingly funny way.
The journey is goosed by a plethora of vivid supporting characters, such as Noah Galvin and Austin Crute as the gay guys running the drama club who take it way too seriously and Skyler Gisondo as a rich kid driving a tricked-out Pontiac with a license plate reading “FUK BOI,” who throws his own party on a yacht that’s way less awesome than he wants it to be. I’d be derelict not to mention Billie Lourd, who steals all her scenes as an indestructible classmate who spends the entire movie stoned and repeatedly pops up in improbable fashion on the girls’ journey to say things like “I lost my virginity in what I thought was a park, but it turned out to be a graveyard, and now the spirits of the dead live in my eggs, waiting to be reborn.” The way Wilde stuffs funny gags into the corners and the background of the frame proves that she is a major comic talent.
Her two actresses make a potent comedy duo. Dever, the petite Dallas product who played a drug addict in Beautiful Boy and a self-mutilating foster kid in Short Term 12, is uncorked to great effect here and makes a springy contrast to her co-star’s bulldozer-like force. You may know Feldstein as the best friend from Lady Bird or as Jonah Hill’s sister in real life, and she brings a manic determination to Molly’s partying that’s quite similar to what her brother brought to Superbad. You can’t take your eyes off her. Listen to the lines ping back and forth between these two in an early scene when Amy admits to using a masturbation aid. Molly, looking around Amy’s bedroom for the object: “A book? Very Freudian, but I’d worry about paper cuts.” It turns out to be a stuffed panda, and Molly teases, “Does she talk dirty to you? Does she say, ‘Amy, I’m endangered!’?”
If you want to see Booksmart because of its female directors and writers, or because of its message of learning not to judge people by their appearances, or because of the way it treats its lesbian protagonist as utterly normal, or because it fulfills the promise shown by forerunners such as Maggie Carey’s The To-Do List and Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back, by all means have at it. Me, I’m a simple creature, and I like this movie for no reason other than it made me laugh and laugh. That is the highest recommendation I can give any film, and that’s what this film comes with.
Starring Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. Directed by Olivia Wilde. Written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman. Rated R.