Teen comedies haven’t been en vogue for a long time because of a lot of things but the key is that they tend to be more time capsules than anything else. They tend to capture culture at the time more than anything else; Superbad is a funny film but it’s a different watch, a decade after it became a a massive hit, because it’s about that time and place.
It’s a genre that’s almost instantly dated as soon as it’s released; Porky’s is an amazingly funny comedy but it’s appeal as a comedy stays with a certain generation. So does American Pie, The Last American Virgin, Road Trip, et al. They’re about specific places and times; they have a universal theme of coming of age but they have to be a product of their times.
Being a teenager is about youth and having life in front of you. The teen comedy is about those final moments between adulthood and childhood, that awkward moment when who you were is in the rear view and who you are is still far ahead.
Booksmart is going to have that same issue ten years from now. It’s a product of it’s time and all the hype it’s gotten now, especially the Superbad comparisons, forget something: it’s a character based comedy that substitutes stylized musical montages for character development.
Simple premise. Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are two high school dorks who have sacrificed everything to get into Ivy League schools. When they discover that the people they looked down on are also getting into those schools, and not living the sort of puritanical lifestyle they were, they decide to spend the night before graduation looking for a party.
There’s so much amazing stuff going on in this film from an overall perspective; it takes the Superbad style of one wild night and gives it a more subtle, gentler approach.
Molly and Amy are well out of their comfort zones as they get a glimpse into everything they missed out on during high school as they went all in on being the sort of people they envisioned themselves as in the future.
The film has a great moment early on where Molly deals with several people insulting her and has the sort of geek moment where she describes how much better she is… until they tell her they’re in her position and had fun during high school.
It’s such an amazing, dark moment that gives us the film’s conceit that you wish it would come later. We don’t get much of an introduction to Molly and Amy; we get bits and pieces but the film has to get them onto their paths that the human element is missing.
The Superbad comparison is apt in this case because the one thing that film did much better is give us a reason to care. Seth and Evan’s friendship was changing, and the addition of McLovin gave it context, but we saw it develop at first.
Why Seth and Evan going to different colleges mattered because we know about them as people.
We don’t get that with Molly and Amy; that dark moment that jump starts the entire film feels closer to just desserts than anything else because we don’t have much reason to want to see them change and grow.
Getting to know them more than just the cursory glance, of the two dancing silly before school, would give this more depth. Their desires to be the kids they never were, if only for a night, would feel more genuine if we knew more about them.
Why they spent all that time working on being great students, ready to become world changing adults, is something we don’t ever really get a grasp on early. It just feels like a film about regret of the temporary as opposed to regretted life choices at a young age.
Their path of growth and change is well done; when we get dropped into this night of weird parties, social media and class structure among their peers we get reminded that high school hasn’t changed over the years… despite the world around it.
Olivia Wilde does a spectacular job of bringing us into this world, and our two ladies’ trying to see what they missed out on. A lot of the same themes that other films in the genre have explored she hits extraordinarily well; this is a film that has a strong undercurrent to it that gives it those connective tissues to films from the genre’s past.
Booksmart has a lot of really interesting things going on for it but ultimately don’t believe the hype.
A number of interesting and engaging extras are included with the DVD.
presents Booksmart. Directed by Olivia Wilde. Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman. Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudekis. Run Time: 105 minutes Rated R. Released on DVD: 9.10.19
Tags: Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart, kaitlyn dever, Olivia Wilde