MOVIE REVIEW: Wilde’s high school comedy passes the test
Three and a half stars
Director: Olivia Wilde
Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever and Jason Sudeikis
Running time: 103 minutes
Verdict: A for audacity
A couple of high achievers fool around with coming-of-age conventions in this raucous high school graduation comedy.
All the familiar elements are there, but they turn up in surprising places and the humour is slightly off centre.
That's what gives this female Superbad its gender-specific edge.
At the heart of actress/activist Olivia Wilde's attention-grabbing directorial debut is the close but platonic friendship between bossy, Harvard-bound Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and her socially conscious bestie Amy (Justified's Kaitlyn Dever).
While the intensity of their relationship is relatively common among teenage girls, this one is fleshed out by its peculiar detail.
Immersed in their own, private, mutually-appreciative, and rather idiosyncratic world, the teenage misfits are quite comfortable with their place on the fringes of high school society.
Until Molly discovers that many of her hard-partying classmates have also been accepted into prestigious universities and that the clueless stoner (Eduardo Franco) she had written off as a loser has in fact been headhunted by Google.
Clearly, there's more to life than textbooks and inspirational videos.
Having had her worldview turned on its head, the single-minded swot resolves to rectify her mistake in the 24 hours before graduation by making up for all those missed opportunities in a single night.
Surprised by her BFF's sudden about-face, Amy is brought around by the promise of an intimate encounter with a skater girl (Victoria Ruesga) upon whom she has a crush.
Of course, having actively avoided parties for their entire high school lives, the young women have a lot of trouble locating the one they wish to attend.
Their first eventful detour involves a sweet rich kid (Skyler Gisondo), his outlandish mate (Billie Lourd), and some unusual strawberries.
In the second, they gatecrash the musical theatre loving crowd's mystery night - whereupon the berries kick in.
The hallucination scene - in which Molly and Amy take the form of two Bratz dolls - is worth the price of admission alone.
One of the nice things about Booksmart is the girls' relative ease with their sexuality. While they haven't had much real-life practice, they are open, curious and appealingly direct.
There's an awkward encounter with their former principal (played by Wilde's real-life partner Jason Sudeikis), who moonlights as a Lyft driver.
And another with a pizza delivery man that pays off, with unexpected results, later in the film.
Booksmart misses a few of its marks, and some of the characters are a little thinly draw, but there's something fresh and almost unexpected about the film's treatment of material that has already been well explored.
Feldstein (Lady Bird, Bad Neighbours 2) is rock solid as the comedy's alpha female.
And Dever is superb as her fiercely loyal gal pal, never once making a predictable choice, but always hitting the right emotional tone.
By making her own distinctive impression in a crowded field, Wilde, too, announces herself as a talent to watch.
Booksmart opens Thursday.