Booksmart is a 2019 American coming-of-age comedy film directed by Olivia Wilde, from a screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. It stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as two high school students, who on the last day of their school decide to have all the fun they missed out on throughout their teenage years because they were too fixated on being goody-two shoes.
Now we have had abundant teenage coming-of-age comedy films, with several young characters finding love in hopeless places and defeating their rivals in sports matches and transforming from the “nerd girl” to the “hot girl” by taking off their glasses and blah blah. Hollywood, for years, has had this formula set as default. They delivered on the same old cinema of boy meets girl, girl is timid, boy is cool, girl and boy go through transformations for each other and fall in love and live happily ever after.
Every year there is a new iteration of high school drama with actors that do not look like teenagers playing teenagers, because the kind of stuff they portray in these movies cannot be appropriate for teenage actors to perform. Additionally, most of the bizarre plots cannot even be deemed realistic, since teenagers, though sometimes stereotypical, are a bunch of complex individuals, trying to figure out who they are and what they want.
Another important issue to highlight is the fact that these formulaic movies lack proper representation. Most movies only show white, skinny and perfect looking actors playing the lead roles, with a token coloured/differently sized side character, who is only there as comic relief and has no other function in the plot of the movie. Not to mention the one-dimensionality of these characters, feeling only one emotion at a time. It is not as much as bad acting rather bad writing since these scripts lack the ability to retain audiences for more than the playtime of the movie; as soon as they walk out of the theatre, the interest is gone. So they only work as mindless garbage and not conversational cinema.
Booksmart in that sense is a sensational movie since it subverts all the known, formulaic scripts Hollywood generally deals with. There is no boy meets girl, none of the “homecoming queen” bullcrap. The two main characters have traits that are generally not held by female protagonists. Olivia Wilde was set on having one main character of her movie as a lesbian, and so Amy (Dever) is an openly lesbian character, who came out in school. Her sexuality does not become the sole characteristic of her personality. Most films have overly exaggerated gay characters that makes it seem as though that is the only identity the character has. It then becomes imperative for the scriptwriters to have a well rounded gay character to be played subtly, so as to achieve the point of realism and relatability that most movies lack in their representation. Her parents are shown excessively supporting her and never miss out on an opportunity to tell their daughter that they love her, which although a bit exaggerated, is superbly positive and refreshing nonetheless. There are no scenes of bullying or ostracism, the film does not try to venture into darkness by adding scenes of struggle, it remains true to its comedic value. That is a newer way of representing queer identity, with a more positive and fun outlook instead of heavy, intense morality issues.
Both Amy and Molly (Feldstein) are two very well-thought-out characters, with several layers to their personalities that come out during the course of the film. The script is well written and well-executed, expressing nuances of teenage life with utter realism and clarity. Most high school films lack the kind of attention to detail that Booksmart contains, which earned it several accolades in the eyes of the critics and the audiences. The personas people take up in high school are living testaments of the competitive nature of the education system, that asks people to not be different, to follow what is set for them. This film ironically turns the table onto itself by making the two most diligent and goal-oriented students seek out mischief and fun before they miss their chance. The fear of missing out on certain special activities is what guides high schoolers through their lives, with their personalities forming according to their FOMO quotient. And by addressing this reality, Booksmart questions the notion of what it means to be a successful student. Molly thinks that by doing what is required out of a student and achieving good grades is what makes her eligible to attain a prestigious college degree, but by opening her up to the possibility of balancing fun and studies, the movie talks about the importance of overall growth of a child. School education in no way guarantees full-fledged success throughout life, the lessons one learns outside of the classroom among our peers, are the one that teaches us the most about life and self.
Another very important topic this movie brings up is the question of feminism. Molly and Amy are shown talking and discussing the ideals of feminism and what being a feminist means to them, yet they talk bad about Annabelle behind her back and partake in rumours that have spread against her. The scene where Annabelle gives Molly a ride home is an eye-opening moment in Molly’s life since she realises that maybe she is not a totally good human as she thought herself to be. Prior to this scene, the two best friends fight in the middle of Nick’s party, screaming at each other about things that they always left hanging in the air between them. They both go through a reality check that makes them question themselves and offer the idea of bringing change in the way that they perceive the world. This becomes essential in pointing out that no one is supposedly perfect, and that learning and evolving is always necessary and is the right thing to do. Humans in their quest for knowledge often forget to unlearn the wrong notions they pick up during their journeys.
Booksmart thereby is a perfect modern coming of age comedy that deals with several important topics that pertain to the life of young people and beautifully express the troubles of what it takes to survive high school, with its peculiarities and quirks.