SXSW Review: BOOKSMART Is Heartfelt And Hilarious

You're going to be obsessed with Olivia Wilde's directorial debut.

The female-centric coming-of-age genre has righteously gained traction in recent years; movies about teens on the verge of adulthood, losing their virginity, partying their problems out, and navigating friendship and the future no longer belong to the boys – because the world doesn't belong to the boys, not really. Not when over half of the population is female. Booksmart has this on its mind as much as anything else: Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are BFFs who've spent their entire high school tenure with their noses firmly planted in their books; they're not just preparing for college – they're getting ready to straight-up change the world, and in order to do so, they're going to need excellent grades and an even better secondary education. But on the eve of graduation, the pair realize that they've spent so much time preparing for the future that they haven't enjoyed the here and now. And so, on their final night of high school, Amy and Molly decide to party it out. 

The typical – and not so typical – teenage shenanigans ensue as the friends try to locate the big party, encountering eccentric classmates, weirder parties, surprisingly cool teachers, and a possible serial killer along the way. Feldstein and Dever are beyond charming as Molly and Amy, respectively; their friendship is remarkably tangible and feels truly lived-in. Even if you weren't a "good kid" in high school (and I certainly wasn't), you'll undoubtedly relate to the emotional journeys Molly and Amy embark on both individually and together, particularly as their insecurities rise to the surface and their assumptions about the world around them and their futures are called into question. That last bit is rather significant as an overall theme in Booksmart, which forces us to examine the assumptions we make about our friends and peers based on appearances or posturing. You never know what someone is really going through, and it's usually not that different from your own struggles. A wildly eccentric rich kid with a drug problem might be the coolest, most laid back person you'll ever meet. That stoner burnout isn't an idiot; he's actually got a full ride to a damn good college. And so on. When Molly and Amy stop for a moment and take a closer look at the world outside their bubble, it's amazing what they find. 

In addition to Dever and Feldstein, Booksmart boasts a fantastic supporting cast – including familiar faces like Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy's parents, Jason Sudeikis as a high school principal, and Jessica Williams as a very cool teacher (maybe too cool). Mike O'Brien has a hilarious cameo as a pizza delivery driver in a scene that reiterates the idea that people are not always what they seem – especially when they're basically screaming it at you. But it's the young cast that really shines: Skyler Gisondo (Santa Clarita Diet) and Billie Lourd play Amy and Molly's weirdo wealthy classmates who are beyond eccentric and desperate to make friends. Lourd's character in particular is a heightened riff on the almost supernaturally Cool Girl, whose mystique becomes a running gag. Eduardo Franco (and his insanely enviable hair) is another standout, and one you might recognize from his supporting part in the first season of American Vandal

As the film's director, Olivia Wilde is a star in her own right, deftly guiding these young women on their pre-graduation odyssey into young adulthood. Wilde's view of modern high school is appropriately diverse in a way that feels organic and casual. Booksmart takes place in a world that very closely resembles our own in ways that more movies should (and it's almost appalling how few of them do). We aren't surprised to learn that Amy has a crush on a girl (nor should we be), and her first sexual encounter is every bit as awkward and endearing as it would be with a boy – if not more so because of who Amy is, not "what" she is. There is so much empathy for these young women and between them; some of the best moments in the film feature Amy and Molly just being each other's biggest fans and cheerleaders. Wilde has immediately established herself as an expert director, delivering a worthy successor to recent films like Lady Bird and Blockers. Booksmart is a beautiful, hilarious movie with a heart every bit as formidable as its brain.