‘Booksmart’ is the Best Comedy in Over a Year

Booksmart_(2019_film_poster)Look, I know this looks like an easily-dismissible female “Superbad” but just hear me out.

“Booksmart” is the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde and follows two goody two-shoes students (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) who set out to party the night before their graduation after realizing they wasted their high school careers. Jessica Williams, Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow and Jason Sudeikis also star.

When the trailer for this came out, plenty of people wrote it off as a wannabe “Superbad” and even noted the similarities to the upcoming film “Good Boys,” which is also about young kids breaking free with drugs and alcohol and even featured the same song (“Nobody Speak”) in its trailer. And I’m sure that will affect this film’s box office results which is a shame because yes, we’ve seen this all before; but that doesn’t mean “Booksmart” is not a film we should be championing.

I really enjoy Kaitlyn Denver and her dry sarcasm on “Last Man Standing” so it is so refreshing to see her get a platform to display her talents besides on a constantly-on-the-bubble TV show or in slight supporting roles in dramas like “Beautiful Boy” or “Detroit.” She has great timing and chemistry with Beanie Feldstein, and hopefully this puts her on the radar of people with the means of getting her bigger projects. Speaking of Feldstein, yes she looks like Jonah Hill and yes that is because she is his sister and yes, the irony of them both starring in coming-of-age raunchy comedies is not lost of me. She has constantly been cited as the breakout star of this film since its premiere at SXSW and while I do not share the “oh my god, we’re witnessing a comedy legend being born” sentiment as other critics, her comedic chops are undeniable.

The supporting cast is all mostly great too, from cameos from Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow and Jason Sudeikis, to fantastic intentionally stereotypical high school characters like the gay drama nerd or the hot girl who is actually smart. They all have their respective moments to draw big laughs.

Honestly, the fact that this is a directorial debut by Olivia Wilde is astounding. There is very little here to suggest this is her first time behind the camera, because so much of the editing, shots and beats are the stuff of someone who has been doing this for a long time. This almost plays like a “21 Jump Street” joint by Lord and Miller (yes, starring Jonah Hill, get off my back) because of the rapid cuts and even a trippy sequence that displaces reality. There are a few long single-takes too, which is all the more impressive considering both Wilde and cinematographer Jason McCormick are both really only experienced in shorts.

The film’s first half is certainly better than its second–in both pacing and amount of laughs–and while that initial act is full of surprises the climax makes sure to check all the necessary cliché boxes we need from a high school film like this. Some of it feels contrived but the way the film plays it almost makes it seem self-aware, as if it is turning to the camera and saying “lol we know you expected this, but our hands are tied.”

“Booksmart” is one of the best films of 2019 so far and is the best comedy released since “Game Night” last February. We’ve seen the story a hundred times before, and just adding females in the leading roles isn’t enough to subvert it, but damn it does this film not have some hilarious moments. Most of it just feels *real* and honest, which isn’t something you find in movies every day, and hopefully this finds an audience; if not in the theaters, then in its inevitable cult status.

Critics Rating: 8/10

United Artists


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