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  • Ben Turner

Booksmart *****


Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Billie Lourd, Noah Galvin, Austin Crute

Director: Olivia Wilde

Country: USA

There’s something about teen comedies that everyone loves. From Mean Girls to American Pie, Easy A to Love, Simon we all love to watch teenagers being awkward and silly because it’s a universal shared experience to which we all can relate; we were all teenagers once. But the most important element for any teen comedy? Genuine laughter. And in the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, we are delivered this in abundance.


Amy (Dever) and Mollie (Feldstein) are about to graduate high school. They’ve worked insanely hard their whole time at school and have a superiority complex about it. But when discover that even though they’ve been accepted to brilliant colleges, so have many others who worked nowhere near as hard as they did. And they are bereft about it. Realising that they have missed out on a large portion of their teen experience, they decide to embrace one last opportunity to party with their peers, heading out the night before graduation to break all the rules they stuck to so vehemently as students.


There’s something innately hilarious about watching the “good kids” losing themselves in bad behaviour. As they swing from party to party, they do everything they know they’re not supposed to; drinking, drugs, sex, getting into cars with strangers, trying to rob someone. And with a very strong supporting cast, the riotous figures they encounter along the way make for very funny viewing: the “too cool” teacher who wants to party with her students (Williams), the principal moonlighting as a taxi driver who really doesn’t care about school (Sudeikis), Amy’s over-protective mother (Lisa Kudrow, need I say more), the fuckboi with a heart (Gisondo), the wildchild heiress (Lourd), the gay theatre geek (Galvin) and his leading lady (Crute), plus the objects of their affection: the jock (Gooding) and the puppy dog hipster girl (Ruesga).


Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are effortlessly funny at the film’s centre, with palpable chemistry as they bounce off each other with humour and silliness. Their upset at the start of the film that nobody else thinks they’re fun has already been disproved because they exploded onto our screens with clownish teenage charm. Though much of the comedy comes from their encounters with ridiculously overdrawn characters, we laugh the most at the verbal ping-pong comically knocked back and forth between them. The way they turn empowering compliments for each other into such ludicrous exaggeration and their overstated wokeness is so brilliantly current – using “Malala” as their safe-word is just plain genius.


Their relationship underpins everything we follow them through. Kaitlyn Dever is cute, likeable and daft, while Beanie Feldstien – the younger sister of Jonah Hill, no less – is controlling, bossy and absurd. They are wonderfully feminist to the point of parody, but without straying into ridicule. And with some fairly bold directorial choices – there’s a surreal stop-animation sequence in which the girls think they are Barbie dolls in a drug-induced hallucination – Wilde is self-assured in her first outing behind the camera. The comedy feels improvisational too, which positively drips from the screen with joyous stupidity. I never really rated Wilde as an actress, but behind the camera she is dynamite.

OUT NOW ON DVD, ON DEMAND AND ON AMAZON PRIME, RELEASED BY UNITED ARTISTS.

#Booksmart

Manchester, UK

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