Director Olivia Wilde and a quartet of screenwriters don’t reinvent the teen party/sex comedy with “Booksmart.” They don’t deviate from the “stations of the cross” of such comedies, established for generations with “Sixteen Candles,” “House Party,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “American Pie” and “Superbad.”
But in building their rude little romp about two female best friends — one gay, both smart yet unworldly — they feminize the experience, find novelty in the routine and flip the script, upending expectations at many a familiar turn.
Class “types”that these smart girls, Amy and Molly, Yale and Columbia bound, look down on?
This jock has a soccer scholarship to Stanford, that mean girl is all set — pre-law at Georgetown.
The class floozy? Yale-bound. The stoner who had to repeat a grade? Not even bothering with college. He’s a tech nerd with a sweet gig lined up with Google.
The life-of-the-party free spirit, Gigi (Billie Lourd) who turns up in scene after scene, this film’s “Long Duk Dong” (“Sixteen Candles”)? She’s a mercurial wit, an epic creator of the “memorable moment,” a bit of a druggie, shockingly nurturing and non-judgmental, surprising in her every appearance.
And the parties class president (“Lass President”) Molly (Beanie Feldstein) drags Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) to? From a sad little rich-kid-rents-a-yacht outing to the gay drama queens (Austin Crute and Noel Galvin, Hilaaaaaaarious) “Murder Mystery” evening, on to the anybody-who-is-anybody blow-out that Molly and Amy simple MUST make their scene are daft, gonzo fun, a quest that will change the two friends forever in common and uncommon ways.
Whatever Wilde & Co. have these kids get into, however they express themselves –equal parts clever and crude — and wherever the movie takes them, “Booksmart” smells like teen spirit.
And no, that’s not a “smell my finger” or “flick the bean” joke. Though it could be.
The deal is, pushy, assertive Molly and came-out-two-years-ago-but-never-kissed-a-girl Amy come to the abrupt realization that their classmates are probably going just as far as they are in life (privileged SoCal high school), only they’ve had a lot more fun in high school while prepping for that future.
The night before graduation, Molly resolves that they’re going to jock-hunk class VP Nick’s (Mason Gooding) party. Amy is going to “get to know” this Sk8Rgrrrl (Victoria Ruesga) she has a crush on. Molly is going to put herself “out there” with people she is sure despise her, “kicking ass and busting (bell) curves!”
And their lives will, you know, change.
So enough with the “gender performance vs. sexual orientation” debates, no more unisex bathroom protests.
“Until all of us can pee without genitals, NONE of us can!”
Let’s forego dinner with Amy’s too-too-supportive but Christian conservative parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte, campy). And no more badgering the disillusioned principal (Wilde finds a sweet and hapless side to her husband Jason Sudeikis for this role) with the minutia of “lass” president business.
The delightful leads are surrounded with a supporting cast of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” caliber, from the “cool” teacher, Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams) to the tries-too-hard rich kid with the sad yacht party and the sweetly restored Trans Am (Skyler Gisondo), pizza delivery guys and random smartasses, each gets a moment.
What’s so refreshing in this, yet another R-rated riff on hormonal high schoolers, is the distinctly feminine point of view, poking holes in the “girls mature earlier than boys” trope, sending up the earnestness of over-achievers, finding the humanity in almost everybody.
The girl (Molly Gordon) who had to wear the label “AAA” all through high school, because of all the boys she gave “roadside service?” She has a real name, real ambitions and goals and is smart enough to make the movie’s sharpest observation. It’s one thing when boys spread that sort of malicious, scarring rumor and nickname. But girls, her peers?
The over-familiarity of the story arc means the movie needs to skip along in order to work, and Wilde hits the pause-and-reflect button more than I’d like. The sentimental moments are sweet, and obvious and heavy-handed.
But “Booksmart” is the first non-Netflix teen sex comedy to come off in ages, and hints that too-pretty/too smart/too funny Olivia Wilde could be the next Judd Apatow, if not this generation’s John Hughes.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking – all involving teens
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Skyler Gisondo, Billie Lourd and Jason Sudeikis
Credits: Directed by Olivia Wilde, script by Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins An Annapurna Release.
Running time: 1:42