Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a triumph for the romantic comedy genre. Following two best friends on their hunt for adventure the night before they graduate high school, BOOKSMART is inappropriate in all the right ways and explores teenage angst in a non-condescending way. While the plot isn’t entirely new – although it actually includes more than one female, BOOKSMART is reminiscent of a tamer SUPERBAD – the characters and script are more refreshing.
BOOKSMART breaks down what a rom-com is and then rebuilds it in a unique way. The film has structural similarities to the rom-coms we know (and often love) but the model we are left with is redefining. Wilde’s debut is funny, fresh and feminist, and most notably it is clever. The known tropes of the genre are not denied to viewers, but they have been brought into a 2019 setting. We get the classic outfit change scene, but it takes place in the back of a rusty car, rather than in a montage in a glitzy shopping mall. We get the love story, but it’s between two best friends rather than following the highs and lows of chasing ‘the one’.
“The known tropes of the genre are not denied to viewers, but they have been brought into a 2019 setting.”
BOOKSMART is the love story of two best friends, both of whom are relatable, three-dimensional and funny. The film flips gender stereotypes on their head, and it is refreshing to have women make the jokes rather than be the subject of them. Although both the protagonists have love interests, their sexuality isn’t exaggerated: it is not there to titillate, nor is it the driving force of the film. Instead, it’s a side story but one which is told frankly and humorously. The characters aren’t ashamed of who they are, and an audience isn’t made to feel embarrassed by their openness.
Wilde has managed to get the best from her actors, and all of them shine throughout BOOKSMART. Performances from best friend duo Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are obvious highlights of the film but mention should also be made of Skyler Gisondo as Jared who perfectly strikes the balance between annoying and loveable sidekick. The film’s script is written well and performed even better. BOOKSMART can count comedic timing as one of its strengths and its overall pacing does well to reflect atmosphere and mood.
The film’s soundtrack is also strong and adds an air of authenticity to the teen world Wilde creates. Alongside songs such as a cover of the classic ‘Unchained Melody’, you will be sure to hear fits of laughter scattered throughout a film which flows, twists and turns into what will forever be a fan favourite and, hopefully, a genre-redefining release.