24th May2019

‘Booksmart’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Bernie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Billy Lourd | Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman | Directed by Olivia Wilde

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Booksmart is actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and stars Bernie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as Molly and Amy – two best friends who, in the final few days of senior year of High School, begin to break free from their social bonds for one night by painting the town red and showing all their classmates what they’ve been missing.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Booksmart, on every level, does not evoke a first-time directorial debut. Quite the opposite in fact. The level of maturity and filmmaking prowess that inhabits this film is nothing short of mesmerising. Directors on their tenth or even twentieth feature will never touch the level of sophistication and technicality showcased in Wilde’s film. From the outrageously colourful and vivid colour palette in the production design, that fills the screen with a bubbling brewing life of its own, or the wonderfully immersive edit utilised via Jamie Gross that has a distinctive flair.

The edit in connection with the cinematography by Jason McCormick provides this constant fluid energy that has a romanticised and colourful spirit. The film is brilliantly captured and when the themes become more intense and abrasive in the relationship between Molly and Amy – which Wilde doesn’t shy away from, in fact, it’s this particular element that she thrives in. Long takes that allow the heated momentum to take over, slowly panning back and forth to soothe and sprinkle the venom. It’s just one small breath-taking scene that evaporates all the air away from the sequence itself and starves the audience.

It’s the resulting performances here in conjunction with the screenplay from writers Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman that exceptionally evolve this picture into something special. It knows first-hand who its characters are and their intended audience. There’s a raw and organic slice of reality on offer here but nothing that feels either problematic or patronising. The result, as stated above feels incredibly immersive and honest.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are perfection together. Their chemistry is off the charts compelling and invigorating, especially that of Feldstein, who is following in the footsteps of her famous older brother Jonah Hill. However, Beanie undoubtedly cements herself in her own individual boisterous but fabulous independence, in the same genre that fired Hill into a rising stardom he still hasn’t come down from. Hopefully the same will be said for Beanie, who shines with her role as ultra-head strong and academic driven Molly. A character that has her own demons, of which Feldstein authenticates in an honest portrayal of anxiety and anxious morbid zoning of the perils of high school.

It’s Beanie that fires off the laughs but its Dever as Amy who stores the poignant and touching arc of exploring her sexuality and societal acceptance of who she is. Lust and heartbreak ensue but it’s how delicately performed and executed said arc is that truly encompasses how spellbinding the parameters of Booksmart truly are.

Even in the infancy of the year in the month of May Booksmart might just be the best of the 2019 bunch. Wilde absolutely nails her directorial debut with a slick, stylish and hilarious feature that showcases a stunning screenplay and equally as impressive performances.

Booksmart comes to UK cinemas from Monday May 27th.

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