“Booksmart”

 

            Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is the smartest girl in her high school.  She's made sure to consistently apply herself, carefully nurturing her grades, and all her hard work culminates in her acceptance to Yale.  She feels like all the trouble has been worth it.  She has exactly one friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), who's also at the top of the class academically, and has been accepted into Columbia.  They're already making plans to continue their close friendship into college, and tell themselves it doesn't matter that they haven't really gotten to know the rest of their classmates. 

            But on the last day of school, when all the Seniors are literally frolicking in the hallways, Molly realizes that though she's been responsible and achieving, she's not had much fun.  Nor has she been much fun, except maybe to Amy, but even they have a tendency to meet each other frequently for study sessions at the library.  Molly decides that it's really important for her and Amy to make that last party of the year at a classmate's house, where, naturally, the parents are away, stuck on a broken-down cruise ship.

            It becomes the kind of night where nothing goes as planned, but the chaos is part of what's different, for these two friends who thus far had been tightly self-controlled.  They make an unscheduled stop at another party, where somebody has put something funny in the strawberries.  There's a comedy bit here about taking on the personas of Barbie dolls that's unexpected and awkward, but somehow it works.  When Molly and Amy finally arrive at the party they intended to crash, unexpected social interaction awaits.  Amy thought she might be interested in someone, but it turns out that someone else is more interested and available.  Molly finds herself flirting with the very empty-headed jock that she had no time for when they were on the Student Council together.  Turns out he's not dumb, just fun-loving to the point of embracing the silliness.

            And that's what new Director Oliva Wilde does with this female coming-of-age comedy:  she embraces the silliness.  We viewers find ourselves chuckling at all the frivolity, but deftly interposed with some serious moments, including a rare argument between Molly and Amy, where emotional truths are surprisingly revealed.  Yes, there's some raucous behavior, and the dialogue is spiced with plenty of expletives.  But first-time Director Wilde draws a line between visually sensual and unnecessarily prurient when she presents lingering underwater scenes of revelers in their underwear. And all the characters do much more talking about sex than actually participating in it.  The strongest “make-out” scene ends abysmally with unexpected regurgitation.  But to further lighten the mood, we also feature a murder-mystery party segment, beer pong, and the obligatory karaoke—-to Alanis Morissette's “You Oughta Know,” a 1995 pop song that's a “classic” to the Class of 2019.

            It's definitely targeted to a younger audience.  But it's a promising breakout for both main characters, as well as their rookie Director.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Film Critics Association