Flicks With Nicki – Booksmart
I love the Decatur Book Festival because I feel like I’m back in school. I enjoy reading books on all sorts of topics. History and politics. Culinary and theology. Poetry and short stories. Does this make me smart? If you asked me that question in high school, I would’ve said yes.
Director Olivia Wilde’s film “Booksmart” takes us back to high school on the last day of school and the last night before graduation for two students who think studying makes them superior to their classmates. Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is the valedictorian of her Los Angeles high school. She’s off to Yale with Gilmore Girlesque smug satisfaction, but the school frowns upon any mention of where the students are going to college. Her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) is an equally brilliant book nerd. They control Amy’s parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte), the principal (Jason Sudeikis), and are excited to get the phone number of their favorite teacher, Miss Fine (Jessica Williams).
Molly’s life is turned upside-down when she discovers that the kids who partied through high school are also going to the top universities. She recruits Amy to go to the biggest party that night and prove that they can be fun.
I like movies that take place during high school, because I remember those days fondly. They take me back without having to go back. I watched Molly and Amy and their classmates. I felt like I knew all the characters. “Booksmart” showed us the range: popular boy, skater girl, and drama kids. We see the rich boy who tries too hard and the eccentric girl who tries too many drugs.
It was painful to watch Molly and Amy discover that the cool kid might also be nice and the rich kid might also be nice and the girl you think is gay might be straight (and also nice). Molly’s intensity echoes the pressure of a generation less worried about being popular and more worried about the stigma of being academically and professionally mediocre. She hasn’t learned what her classmates already know. You can be fun and smart too.
High school was good to me. I was a bit of the awkward nerdy girl, but I also had fun. I went to football games and dances. My friends weren’t bound by labels and cliques that we see in most movies. I had all types of friends, and my high school life was almost 30 years ago. Somehow “Booksmart” didn’t make me feel old. I thought of Ponyboy talking to Randy in “The Outsiders.” I remember the heartbreak and honestly of the five misfits in “The Breakfast Club.” Labels don’t matter.
As adults we still make assumptions on first glance. The man on the train in the expensive suit must have a perfect life, and the lady covered in tattoos must be tortured. But we know often the opposite is true. More often than not I sympathized with Molly’s archenemy Triple A (Molly Gordon) who is also going to Yale. Amy is careful not to slut-shame her, but Molly is willing to judge her on rumors. Molly isn’t nice. Sometimes she is obviously the villain. If anything, shouldn’t we aspire to be like Triple A? Beautiful, sexy, and a genius. Even in the bathroom scene that reveals the academic success of her “enemies,” I can’t completely side with Molly. Her adversaries are endearing in their own way. True to themselves in a way Molly and Amy have never been.
The script is smart and funny. The most unlikely characters are at times horrifying and endearing. Isn’t that how we all are?
“Booksmart” is smart. My main criticism is that the adults are all fools. The cool teacher, principal with two jobs, and overly loving parents are caricatures of their own. I take issue with that. If I can believe that the cutest boy in school is also a nice guy, they should also show me that the adults aren’t dummies. But it’s still a clever movie with enough turns and twists and laughs that you forgive the utterly predictable resolution. Not enough to get you into Yale, but just enough to get you into Georgetown. Grade B-.