‘Booksmart’ focuses on friendship throughout a fun night on the town

Graham Shapley

“Booksmart” actor and activist Olivia Wilde’s feature-length directorial debut hopes to capture crazy high school experiences and friendships within the time frame of a single night.

“Booksmart” follows two best friends who, on the eve of their graduation from high school, realize that they’ve missed out on everything that they can achieve in high school by keeping a singular focus on academia. This sets off a party-hopping night of hijinks as the pair attempt to catch up on what they’ve been missing out on.

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The movie stars an ensemble cast of characters covering every high school stereotype, from the gay theater buffs to the rich kids who nobody really likes, but the stars of the show are undeniably Amy and Molly, the titular book-smart teens.

Amy, played by Kaitlyn Dever, falls into the role of the friend who, while wanting to be supportive, mostly wants to go home and get things over with. She’s dragged along by Molly, portrayed by Beanie Feldstein, who wants to have a memorable night and hopefully get both of them a little bit of romance on the way.

“Booksmart” is notable in the way it incorporates LGBTQ characters in a natural way without feeling pandering. A handful of graduating students, including Amy, are openly gay, and they are shown nothing but respect throughout the movie.

It might come off as a bit of a fantasy in the continuing political climate in which LGBTQ individuals face hatred and bigotry from many angles, but it’s refreshing to see a movie where the sexual orientations of the characters, while important and realistically depicted, are not the primary focus of the film.

“Booksmart” is now playing in theaters.

Romance isn’t the main goal of “Booksmart” — it does happen along the way, but the main focus is always on the friendship between Amy and Molly. The friendship feels real in a way that friendships in other movies about young characters don’t. Instead, it’s shown through inside jokes and genuine platonic affection.

For some audience members, this close friendship might get a little too intimate in its details. “Booksmart” is rated R for a reason — there’s talk of sex, masturbation, pornography, drugs and all sorts of things that are uncomfortable topics, especially when they are said by teenagers.

This puts the movie in an interesting place. The setup suggests that this will play out like a classic coming-of-age story where the main characters learn to let loose and have a little bit of fun, but it’s clearly made for more mature viewers than the teenagers who would typically benefit most from its messages.

That’s not to say that teenagers are unable to handle everything that goes down in the film, but it may be an uncomfortable ride. There are also a handful of scenes that felt out of place. A short drug trip midway through the movie is bizarre and doesn’t tie into the overall themes; it just feels like the screenwriters threw it in there to give the film a bit more “wackiness” that it wasn’t even lacking in.

The ultimate message of the film might appear as a simple “relax a bit,” but it digs deeper than that. The film makes clear throughout that people are complicated, and first impressions, alongside a healthy dose of gossip, are not all there is to their story.

For example, what sets the plot in motion is the realization that focusing solely on school hasn’t made the protagonists any better off. A fellow student known for giving “roadside assistance” to boys is also going to a prestigious college. Almost everyone is trying their best, and looking down on people for wanting to have fun only serves to alienate those who could otherwise become friends.

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Should you see it: Yes.

Although it’s not without its flaws, “Booksmart” is a charming and funny ode to high school and friendship. With a fast pace, the film flies by like a whirlwind night on the town, which is exactly what it was going for.

Collegian reporter Graham Shapley can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham.