Coming-of-age films are a very specific genre that usually appeal to the nostalgic sense of friendship, exhilarating adventures and growing up. A lot of times, coming-of-age films can be sentimental works of art, such as Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird or Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen, but mostly they end up being the typical, unrealistic, cheesy attempts at evoking nostalgia.
Booksmart leaves every film from the genre in the dust, as it becomes the new standard for what a great coming-of-age flick — and film in general —should be.
There are so many amazing aspects to the film, but by far the best are the two protagonists: Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). Both women are the perfect amount of lovable, comedic, sassy and serious when it came to their roles as best friends, and the film would have been nowhere near the masterpiece it is without their performances.
Though Feldstein and Dever are the glue of the film, there’s no weak link among the cast. Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo give incredible performances, with Lourd’s eccentricity and Gisondo’s depth shining through. In addition, Noah Galvin and Austin Crute give hilarious performances as theater-loving best friends, with Galvin’s “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette rendition unmatched by most karaoke scenes in films.
The film marks actress and activist Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, and the female power is evident with the film. Not only was the film directed by a woman, but it was written by women, produced by women and starred two women without making them juxtaposed to a man or used as sexual objects. The film also contains tons of feminist dialogue, female-powered themes and a realistic sense of writing, which accurately represents what women are like and not a man’s idea of a woman’s experience.
The film also seems to address a lot of stereotypes in the film, including the perception of lesbian versus straight women and the concept of what traditional beauty means. Amy’s crush on a girl named Ryan, who dresses in a masculine-presenting way, leads Amy to believe Ryan’s lesbian, but that assumption isn’t necessarily correct.
Otherwise, Wilde focuses on Molly while playing with the idea of traditional beauty. Molly isn’t a traditional size two, gorgeous blonde, yet her weight is never mentioned once. She flirts with the most popular boy in the class, and he flirts right back with her, deeming her worthy even though she doesn’t possess the typical Barbie doll look. A lot of films that feature plus-size protagonists find a way to mention their weight as either a shortcoming or a specific plot addition, but Molly’s weight isn’t mentioned once, which is majorly refreshing.
The film also features realistic dialogue about sex and practical sex scenes. Many films, often written by men, portray sex as clean cut and perfectly executed. However, Booksmart portrays sex in a vulnerable, messy, honest and wonderful way.
The film’s overall sense of realism is what sets Booksmart apart from other coming-of-age films. All of the dialogue is so natural and flows well, while the party scenes are accurate to actual high school parties, instead of what most films try to portray them to be like. The whole film is so honest and true to high school and female experiences. The only unrealistic aspect is the idea that almost every character in the film is going to an Ivy League university.
The film keeps you guessing until the very end, and with so many twists and turns, the comedic tone is the constant. However, Wilde isn’t afraid of getting emotional. The ending is so true to the relationship of real best friendships that it’s truly tear-jerking. It’s a great and unexpected change of pace, which quickly turns back to the comedic gem that it is.
Overall, the film manages to set a precedent for coming-of-age films, all while being original, realistic and hilarious. With incredible acting, feminist tones and emotional honesty, Booksmart will have audiences laughing until they cry and wanting to immediately watch it again, making it surely one of the best of the year.