Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) and Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12) lead this end-of-high-school comedy as two pals who seek to become trendy rulebreakers, believing it’ll help them survive college. This marks the feature directorial debut of actor Olivia Wilde.
While it’ll likely hit the spot for those with the right sensibilities, Katie Parker wonders if it’ll have any lasting power with this generation.
There are few things so everlasting as the power of a good teen girl movie: Heathers; Clueless; Mean Girls; Easy A. When done right they last a lifetime—resurfacing endlessly, quoted in perpetuity, sought for solace in breakups, worshipped for eternity.
Arguably, as of yet, generation Z has yet to see their very own entry into this canon. Sure, the likes of Lady Bird, The Edge of Seventeen and Eighth Grade all resonated with critics—but perhaps not so much with the teen girl audience itself.
The latest to try their hand at the definitive gen Z teen girl comedy is Olivia Wilde who, with the help of a script penned by a handful of the industry’s most prominent girl-bosses, has come up with Booksmart, a coming of age comedy that attempts to challenge the clichés its predecessors coddled.
Following overachieving best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) on their last day of high school, Booksmart begins with the uptight pair deciding to finally let loose and attend one of the frivolous house parties they have long considered beneath them.
For what is ostensibly a night of debauchery, this fun is fairly wholesome: Amy and Molly are a picture of gen Z wokeness. With framed photos of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, ‘Nasty Woman’ bumper stickers, and a vaguely questionable agreement to use the word ‘Malala’ as a veto, Booksmart’s heroines are not so much the source of riotous gags as they are an endless stream liberal in-jokes.
This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing. Receiving high praise from critics in the US, and a lukewarm box-office response from audiences, its already clear than reactions are likely split depending on the viewer’s sensibilities—and for those so inclined, Booksmart will likely hit the spot perfectly.
Whether it will strike a chord with a generation of teen girls, however, is another thing. Warm, gentle and self-consciously woke, Booksmart isn’t taking any chances with its comedy—and as such could hardly be considered ground-breaking or radical. With excellent, natural performances, strong chemistry, and a good heart at its centre, it’s a fun ride—but only time will tell if it can really take a place in the teen girl movie pantheon.