Metro Weekly

In ‘Booksmart,’ Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever crack the code for fresh teen comedy

Olivia Wilde's debut as director reinvigorates the high school comedy

Booksmart — Photo: Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

A film about friendship, farewells, and a race to cure one ferocious case of FOMO, Booksmart reinvigorates the high school comedy with strong doses of heart and up-to-the-minute humor. The movie follows besties Molly and Amy, straight-A students who spend graduation night stalking the hottest party of the year, desperate to prove they’re more than just studious. And with her feature debut, Booksmart‘s director Olivia Wilde proves herself to be more than just the winsome costar of such lukewarm fare as Life Itself and Love the Coopers.

Wilde’s smartest move might have been in casting Kaitlyn Dever as Amy, the more reserved, and lesbian, of the two pals, and Beanie Feldstein — who portrayed the model of best friendship opposite Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird — as Molly, the bossier extrovert of the two best friends.

The actors, who’d never met before being cast, share the screen constantly throughout. “Both of us knew that this movie depended on our chemistry, and if that wasn’t there, then we’d have a problem,” says Dever.

Their chemistry does pay off, also with the hilarious supporting cast, including Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, Jessica Williams, Billie Lourd, The Real O’Neals star Noah Galvin, and Wilde’s longtime beau Jason Sudeikis. In the midst of that scene-stealing ensemble — and Amy and Molly’s R-rated, occasionally edible-assisted adventure — the girls’ camaraderie stays front and center. And that’s largely what attracted them to the project in the first place.

“It was awesome to get a script that the main focus was about a strong female, ride-or-die friendship,” Dever says. “I think as a young woman, we rarely are given the opportunity to be funny in a very smart way.”

Feldstein points to one recent comedy hit that might have helped pave the way for Booksmart. “My favorite film in the world is Bridesmaids,” she says. “That movie is all about female friendship but of a different generation, of a different time in your life and how she’s learning how to kind of break up with her best friend because she’s getting married. In our film, they’re learning how to break up because they have to go to college, and how you remain best friends with that person and how you set them free. I love that. I’ve never seen a story like that.”

There aren’t too many teen comedy high schools like the one portrayed in Booksmart, where everyone, refreshingly, gets along. This is not one of those movies where mean girls march in color-coordinated formation down the halls, and every kid is defined entirely by their social circle. Feldstein notes that Wilde and the film’s four female screenwriters mined comedy not from pitting factions against each other, but by playing up everyone’s gifts and flaws.

“That is so much more human,” says Feldstein. “There doesn’t need to be the hot enemy girl or the crazy hot guy that’s mean to girls that aren’t beautiful. Everyone has moments where they’re not their best selves and everyone has moments where they shine, and that’s what movies about high school should be.”

Booksmart is rated R, and opens nationwide on Friday, May 24. Visit www.fandango.com.

André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at ahereford@metroweekly.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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