I want to be mad at Booksmart for copying the plot of Superbad, but I just can’t. It’s way too good to minimize it to being simply a copy or rip-off. Sometimes it can be a good idea to take inspiration from something great and put your own spin on it.
This movie bakes a high school graduation cake made of huge, important topics and covers it in a hilarious icing. It’s not content with being just another seniors-graduating-tomorrow R-rated comedy. Instead, it takes it three confident steps further and fully develops its two main characters, gives smart social commentary, and has next level direction from Olivia Wilde.
The film tells the story of Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) – two high school seniors who, on their last day of school, realize that all the hard work they put in to get into the best colleges wasn’t as important as they thought because the people they deemed as less-than got into the same caliber of schools without putting in as much work. Right off the bat, the theme of how you shouldn’t judge others is brought up, and it continues the rest of the way through.
But that is just one of many important themes that these filmmakers are interested in exploring. We get whole scenes devoted to the necessity of young women being vigilant, the importance of keeping perspective and not losing sight of who you are, and how peer pressure can keep a person from showing who they really are. Each one of these is expertly framed in a comedic way, but when you take a step back and think about what is being discussed, it’s so apparent that these subjects are close to the filmmakers’ hearts. With four female writers and a female director, everything is handled with the required care for such topics.
And this movie would not be nearly as good as it is without its fantastic direction. Wilde continues the recent trend of excellent direction and camerawork in comedies who have no business having such good cinematography. She takes advantage of long takes, unique angles, and even a dolly zoom. This movie is such a joy to look at and communicates so much extra emotion because of its visuals, which will likely go overlooked by general audiences.
But what really makes Booksmart click is its two leads. Feldstein and Dever have such fantastic chemistry to begin with that they’re able to make it really seem like they are best friends who spend every single day of their lives together. But they also give amazing performances on their own – Dever especially. They both excel at the comedy in the movie, but it’s in the emotional moments that they are really able to shine and show their acting ability. Besides, it is Billie Lourd who steals every single scene that she’s in, playing the “unique” and hilarious character of Gigi.
All in all, it would just be unfair to call this a retread of the Superbad storyline. While they share similar premises and story beats, Booksmart manages to be just like its main characters – smart, unique, and worthy of attention.