To say that “Booksmart” (Anapurna/United Artists), actress-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde’s feature-length directorial debut, is where “Mean Girls” meets “Superbad” is not reductive, but actually a well-earned compliment. Co-screenwriters Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman have taken the best elements of those movies and synthesized them into an original and instant comedy classic.
Most importantly, “Booksmart” doesn’t have any of the “blatantly homophobic” elements of “Superbad”, a fact that “Superbad” co-screenwriter Seth Rogen readily admitted to in an interview a few years ago. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), one of the two female lead characters, is an out lesbian who openly explores attraction and crushes.
On the last day of their senior year of high school, academically-driven class president Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and her BFF Amy are happy to know that they will never see barely tolerated classmates such as class VP and super-jock Nick (Mason Gooding), annoying rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo), attention sucking 1%er Gigi (Billie Lourd), stoners Tanner (Nico Hiraga) and Theo (Eduardo Franco), rumored class tramp Triple A (Molly Gordon), judgmental Hope (Diana Silvers), and class queens George (Noah Galvin) and Alan (Austin Crute). However, Molly’s disturbing mixed-gender bathroom encounter with fellow students in which she learns that her and Amy’s years of all work and no play were for naught, as the partiers also got into schools such as Georgetown and Harvard.
Suddenly faced with the fact that they may have wasted their high school years by not getting wasted, Molly and Amy set out to rectify the situation, and change their stories, by attending one final party thrown by Nick. While this is a familiar premise (see the aforementioned “Superbad”), it is handled with such a delightful touch in “Booksmart” that if feels fresh.
First, Molly and Amy have to get past Amy’s religious but accepting parents Charmaine (Lisa Kudrow) and Doug (Will Forte). Next, they have to find a way to get to the party, which will be a challenge since all they know about it is that it’s at Nick’s aunt’s house. Enter Jared and his vintage Firebird. Of course, he has other plans and takes them to his own grad party aboard a yacht, where the only other guest is Gigi who forces them to eat dosed strawberries before jumping overboard. They narrowly escape that party and call an Uber, where the next shock occurs when their driver turns out to be their high school’s principal Mr. Brown (Jason Sudeikis).
Once again, they are delivered to the wrong soiree. This one is a murder mystery party at George’s house. Better attended than Jared’s, Molly and Amy again encounter Gigi (how did she get there?) who tells them about the drugged fruit they imbibed. The scene in which the drug kicks takes hold, in which they are transformed into dolls, is one of the funniest in the movie.
After they come down, Amy, who is satisfied that they attended two parties and did drugs, is ready to call it a night, but not Molly. It turns out that Molly is secretly in love with Nick and feels it necessary to attend his party. Following an encounter with a pizza delivery driver/serial killer, they enlist favorite teacher Miss Fine (Jessica Williams), who not only delivers them safely to the doorstep of the party, but also lends them better threads.
Everything that can go wrong at the party does. That includes Molly’s misguided flirtation with Nick, Amy’s discovery that her crush Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) is straight, Amy’s disastrous romantic bathroom encounter with Hope, and ultimately Molly and Amy’s public disagreement which is recorded on several cell phones. Then the police arrive and Amy is arrested. All of this on the day before graduation.
“Booksmart” packs in more laughs than any other comedy this year. Feldstein and Dever are wonderful and command our attention in every scene. Each of the supporting players is also strong, making this one of the best ensemble comedies of the 2010s. Get schooled!