Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have been living under a false assumption. Wanting to get ahead, they decided to eschew social lives and spend high school with their noses in the books. And with the walls of their bedrooms plastered with positive aphorisms and feminist slogans, Molly and Amy have become the best versions of themselves — uberRory Gilmores with a fashion sense devoid of time or place. Molly, the school’s class president, got accepted into Yale and Amy is off to Africa to make tampons for the underprivileged before studying at Columbia.
As you might expect, all this studying has worked in their favor academically but not socially. Amy came out of the closet two years ago but has yet to kiss a girl. Molly barely even acknowledges sexual desires in her purview. Insult to injury comes when Molly finds out that all the skaters, jocks, misfits, screw-ups, and partiers are also headed to Ivy League schools. It turns out self-sacrifice can only take you so far, and Molly’s sacrifice has only garnered her a case of the FOMOs.
Her resolve: Spend the night before graduation at the most bitchin’, epic party ever thrown. She’s going to drink, do drugs, make-out, and hook Amy up with super-cool-skater-chick-who-has-to-be-gay-right? Ryan (Victoria Ruesga). What could go wrong?
Directed by Olivia Wilde and written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman, Booksmart is a veritable grab-bag of high school movie conventions cranked up to 11. The movie, much like Molly and Amy, is tireless, racing headlong from one set piece to the next barely stopping to catch its breath as the two who shall not be denied wind their way through Los Angeles’ after hours.
Booksmart’s abundance of energy is only matched by the movie’s uncommented on depiction of opulence. Special attention is paid to Molly’s home — she lives in a small Californian garden apartment, likely with a single parent, possibly by herself — and Amy’s suburban home. And though the two attend what looks like a public school, their interactions with fellow students lead them from a yacht party to a sprawling mansion filled with an endless sea of bodies. There is a vague sense of geography in their travels — “It’s over on the West Side,” is the only acknowledgment given to note they are entering a new tax bracket — and an even vaguer sense that Molly and Amy are aware of the affluence surrounding them. Or how it may have been acquired. But as the title suggests, Molly and Amy aren’t exactly street smart.
At its heart, Booksmart is about two friends coming to terms with the future ahead of them. A future that might not feature them attached at the hip. Sadly, the movie’s script buries their dynamic under a mountain of clichés, stereotypes, and showy photography. Most scenes linger longer than they should as if they Wilde and Co. are hoping for a sudden burst of awkward energy; others just linger, hoping to imbue the moment with significance. And like a dinner guest who has said goodbye three times too many without once making a move for the door, neither comes to fruition. You’re just exhausted and ready to go to bed.