“Booksmart” is the latest movie good enough to join this decade’s most authentic and funniest films about the lives of teen girls, among the likes of “Lady Bird,” “The Edge of Seventeen” and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.”
It makes sense that so many good stories should emerge now and keep coming.
This is an era in which people have realized two things: Such stories about young women have gone untold for too long, and similar plots about the lives of teen boys produce the reaction, “Wow, I’ve seen that story a million times before.”
This is exceptional filmmaking about women and made by women.
I saw in “Booksmart” what I think other people might see: It feels like a gender-twist on the concept of “Superbad,” a masterwork of the genre of teen comedies that are riotous, raunchy and sweet-natured all at the same time.
There are certainly similarities between the two movies: A pair of co-dependent friends are desperate to raise their coolness quotient in a 24-hour period ahead of graduation from high school.
That means we are about to witness a series of misadventures over one long night, which feels familiar.
But there are certainly differences thanks to a razor-sharp script by Katie Silberman, who is hot off her Netflix movie “Set It Up” success.
Also due a shout-out is the standout direction from actress and first-time feature filmmaker Olivia Wilde, who proves her talents are diverse and impressive, from her visual choices to some risk-taking that works more often than not.
Wilde’s heroines are Molly, played by Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s sister, a perfect “Superbad” connection; she played the best friend in “Lady Bird”), and Amy, portrayed by Kaitlyn Dever (a “Last Man Standing” TV veteran of many years).
The two young women have excelled, and Ivy League schools await each of these academic overachievers.
These are the kind of girls who would break into the library to do research.
Molly has the rapier-wit humor and is the driving-force valedictorian, while Amy — who’s been out of the closet for two years but never acted on her sexuality — is her more meek partner in all things straight-and-narrowly focused on studies.
They are smart and serious about their futures, but they are also entertaining.
We can see it. They know it. But nobody else does.
When they realize that classmates they’ve written off as partiers are also making it into elite colleges, Molly’s and Amy’s “we missed out” neuroses, ranging from anxiety to envy, go into overdrive.
It’s time to let loose. It’s time to crash the big party.
“We were going to watch that Ken Burns thing,” a play-it-safe Amy reminds. “The ‘Dust Bowl’ can wait, b----!” Molly exclaims.
Wilde skillfully stages one profane adventure after another, from a yacht-party mistake to a murder-mystery detour to other mini-disasters that keep us from experiencing the cliched one-long-beer-bust at somebody’s house whose parents are away for the entire movie.
That moment comes, of course, and it’s surprisingly where the film drags, as Molly and Amy are separated for an extended period of time in different moment-of-truth episodes inside the house.
This flatness just goes to show how critical the chemistry of Feldstein and Dever is to the movie. It’s to the degree that we hope they will be friends forever — both the characters and the actors.
The supporting cast of teens is only minimally developed beyond sight gags, which was disappointing, and the presence of Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis comes only in brief but very amusing cameos.
I wanted more on both accounts.
But a cautionary coming-of-age tale winningly becomes a comedic romp of sisterhood by capturing a moment in time — having climbed the adolescent mountain that is high school and realizing that things will never be the same.
While the teen lingo will be the natural language of young people and will fly over the head of moviegoers older than 25 at times, the laughs are large, and the emotions are universal.
Important in making that happen is the depiction of high-school archetypes that are blown up as we go along.
It’s like when you go to your high-school reunion years later and all those archetype individuals return, and you realize that none of that matters anymore — and that it really didn’t matter all those years ago either, but at the time, you believed it meant everything when it came to acceptance.
“Booksmart” is smart enough to think that some teens can figure it out now, rather than years from now.