I recently rewatched the 2019 movie, Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde and starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. Upon rewatching, I’ve realized that the film is probably one of the best coming-of-age movies ever made despite its below-average performance at the box office.
The film stands out in the coming-of-age lineup because of how refreshing the script is and how it smartly breaks all the stereotypes that have come before. Starting with the main character, Molly (Feldstein), we are already breaking the stereotype of the “nerdy girl” in high school with no friends.
Molly is best friends with Amy (Dever), and she is unpopular in school not because she is weird and nerdy, but because she despises everyone who, in her eyes, doesn’t “work hard” in school. In a sense, Molly became the villain of the story because she judges people only based on their appearance; a tool that is usually reversed in teenage movies.
Not judging people based on their appearances is often the theme in coming-of-age stories, but not many movies explore the theme as successfully as Booksmart. Each character in the film is a version of a stereotype we’ve seen hundreds of times, but almost all of them break the stereotype by the end of the film.
The side characters also shine as bright as the two leads. Jared (Skylar Gisondo) confessed at the end of the film that no one understood him in the school, and everyone only sees him as the “rich boy.” Gigi (Billie Lourd) may seem like the “dumb blonde” of the film, but we’ve come to learn that she is the most loyal friend to Jared.
Nick (Mason Gooding) is supposed to be the typical jock, but he is a really nice person with a nerdy side. The film uses Molly as a tool for the audience to see how everyone has more layers than what we’ve presented to the world.
Though the movie is Wilde’s directorial debut, she showcased her ability as a director. Many of the camera movements were well-thought-out and reflected the state of mind of the character. The argument scene between Molly and Amy is perhaps the best example.
The scene is completely filmed in one shot, the camera lingers on the character to show the audience not just the great performances from Feldstein and Dever, but to also show how each word hurts the character now, instead of cutting back and forth where we might lose the emotional weight of the story.
Wilde’s masterful direction with the brilliantly written script and the hilarious performances from the cast makes Booksmart one of the funniest, most heartwarming coming-of-age comedies in years.