Booksmart

 

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Yet another actor turns to directing with a mixed bag of clever one-liners and stereotypes in a breezy entertainment that turns the high school sitcom inside out.

 

Booksmart

SuperGood: Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever

   

Molly has earned her place at Yale. Drawing on the inspiration of her role models RBG, Michelle Obama and Jane Goodall, she has swotted her way through senior high at the expense of all else. Amy, her best friend, has got into Columbia and is spending her summer in Botswana teaching women how to make their own tampons. With only one night left until graduation, Molly discovers that many of her peers actually have places at Stanford, Harvard and, yes, even Yale, yet still managed to have fun outside of class. As Annabelle – aka ‘Triple A’ – tells Molly in the school’s gender-neutral toilet, she and her friends, “don’t only care about school.” Undergoing an epiphany, Molly is determined for her and Amy to have the night of their lives – if only they can find the location of the wild party that all their classmates are attending…

 

Booksmart, which marks the directorial debut of the actress Olivia Wilde, arrives here on a tsunami of critical acclaim. It does have a lot to commend it, but, while taking pride in its cliché-bashing, it also flaunts a number of stereotypes. It also suffers from a sameness of tone, with the stream of wisecracks – turned out by a quartet of credited writers – sounding more like calculated punchlines than anything approaching real dialogue. Hence, any emotional reality is kept at arm’s length and one can but just sit back and admire the performances. Had Ms Wilde varied the mood a little more, she might have introduced actual pathos into the minefield of high school, along with its attendant feelings of envy, misunderstanding, humiliation, inadequacy and gender confusion.

 

However, as a “gender balanced” sitcom, it does come with more smarts than most examples of the genre. As Molly and Amy, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever generate genuine chemistry and there are excellent turns from Molly Gordon as Triple A and Diana Silvers as an enlightened, ambivalent figure hovering on the sidelines. Other performers, though, such as Billie Lourd (daughter of Carrie Fisher) as a drug-addled nutcase and Austin Crute as a camp luvvy, deliver embarrassing caricatures. Some narrative shortcuts, too, are also wildly unconvincing. Yet, the one-liners (if you can decipher them) are refreshingly acute, honest, erudite and original, although they may require a glossary for older non-Americans. But such savvy discourse is a rewarding prize, even if much of it might require a second viewing.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Noah Galvin, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Mike O’Brien, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Austin Crute, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga.

 

Dir Olivia Wilde, Pro Megan Ellison, Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfield, Jessica Elbaum and Katie Silberman, Ex Pro Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, Screenplay Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, Ph Jason McCormick, Pro Des Katie Byron, Ed Jamie Gross, Music Dan the Automator, Costumes April Napier.

 

Annapurna Pictures/Gloria Sanchez Productions-Entertainment One.

102 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 27 May 2019. Cert. 15.