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Chaotic good

‘Booksmart’ is a hilarious and thoughtful look at kids these days

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein in ‘Booksmart’

Say what you will about Gen Z—mock their YouTube channels, their technological fluency, and the fact that they’ve never experienced dial-up internet. (Check your privilege, Gen Z.) But what Olivia Wilde does best in her directorial debut is offer real hope for the future the youths are building—no small feat, considering
the times.

Booksmart is the latest entry into the American teen pop culture cannon, standing on the shoulders of high school coming-of-age comedies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ten Things I Hate About You and Mean Girls—but seeing far beyond them.

The premise is a familiar one: Two rule-following, academically ruthless best friends are rewarded for four years spent focused on their academics (and only their academics) by acceptance to Ivy League colleges; however, they find their focus was wasted when it’s revealed that their partying peers are granted acceptance to the same exact universities.

The two embark on a journey from lawful good to chaotic good in one night by way of pre-graduation party hopping. Headstrong valedictorian and class president Molly (Beanie Feldstein) coaxes the autoharp-wielding, bolo tie-wearing Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) along on a quest to make up for four lost years of partying in one night, learning important lessons about friendship and trust along the way.

Feldstein and Dever have incredible chemistry, an on-screen dynamic that never plays into tired stereotypes. In fact, the most striking thing about Booksmart is the absence of any Hollywood high school tropes. These are girls who yell supportive hyperbole at one another (“WHO ALLOWED YOU TO BE THIS BEAUTIFUL? WHO ALLOWED YOU TO TAKE MY BREATH AWAY?”), idolize their teacher, Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams) and are proudly well-informed on the ins-and-outs of international politics.

Molly and Amy are absolutely nerdy, but in 2019, nerdy is not synonymous with a low place in the social hierarchy. It’s a relief to see characters cut from a real cloth; kids these days might love Instagram, but they also love intersectional feminism, Alanis Morissette, and building up their friends. Wilde’s debut is full of charm that won’t quit, offering characters with dimension, jokes that are smart and an endearing look at the evolution of an intense friendship between two young women. The future is female, yes, but most importantly, the future is female and funny.

Critics have called Booksmart a “female Superbad” (and I’ll hear you out if you want to make that case—Beanie Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s younger sister) but to this reviewer, the movie walks a much smarter and sweeter line. True, there are many dirty, uncomfortable moments and a celebration of the deep and borderline-romantic friendship between the girls, but Booksmart is genuinely hilarious and endlessly relatable without ever sacrificing a baseline of respect and kindness for all involved.

Older generations bemoan the “self-absorption” of the new guard, but Booksmart gives us a glimpse into the lives of young people who love each other fiercely and who see beyond their own little world. Teen comedies are woke now. Finally.