Booksmart, the terrific new comedy from actor turned director Olivia Wilde, is nothing without its charming leads. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein ignite the screen as best friends approaching the end of high school. They are people you want to hang out with and that goes a long way in a film that makes few missteps. The film is raunchy yet sweet and will hopefully be a hit.
Molly (Feldstein) is valedictorian and class president. She is an over-achiever that would give Max Fischer a run for his money. Her best friend Amy (Dever) is equally focused on succeeding in high school. Both of them have sacrificed social lives in favor of ensuring they will make it into elite universities. When Molly realizes all of the goof-off students she judges without remorse also made it into ivy-league schools and didn't sacrifice having fun in high school, she sets off on a one-night adventure to party like her and Amy never have before.
Wilde brings style and solid music choices from her experience directing music videos. Booksmart has one of the best soundtracks of any teen comedy. That isn't the only thing that separates it from Superbad and other films it will likely get compared to. The film strives to give supporting characters dimensions. No one is as one-note as they first appear and this gives the film a richness in character. Even while some of the situations are predictable and familiar, the whole cast of characters isn't.
This layered care to the characters is especially true to the two leads. Amy and Molly are nerdy and awkward but they are also sweet, funny and thoughtful. Amy is particularly complex. She is gay and has been out for a few years but doesn't know the first thing about dating. Yet the film never lets this be a defining quality. Molly seems like she has everything going for her but is more vulnerable than raunchy comedies tend to let their characters be.
As mentioned before, the film really succeeds because of the central performances. Feldstein is particularly good here, able to combine verbal wit with physical comedy. She gets many of the films biggest laughs as a result. She also nails the insecurity of Molly. Dever plays off her wonderfully while also giving Amy an identity beyond being just a best friend.
Booksmart is sporadic in its structure. The girls bounce from scenario to scenario without a whole lot of rhyme or reason. Some of these moments are great such as when the two girls try to hijack a pizza delivery driver. Others, such as a drug scene, contain laughs but also push the film far beyond reality. This undercuts some of the heart and honesty of the film. These are minor quibbles that don't detract from the overall fun of the film but do effect the film's impact.