On paper, I would describe “Booksmart” as a gender-swapped “Superbad.” Both films are about a couple of dorky best friends near the end of their time in high school that want to make a lasting impression on their classmates by going to at least one big party, only for it all to go horribly wrong, while the best friends learn just how much they care about each other. Both films have a similar sense of humor when it comes to high school antics and a first-time exposure to drugs, as well as the chill adults that witness these kids losing their adolescence.
I say “on paper” that both films are similar, but in terms of characters and the overall message, these two films couldn’t be further apart. Whereas “Superbad” had laid-back, fun-loving leads, the two main characters in “Booksmart” are assertive, often to the point of being in everyone’s face, and have a hard time locating fun, mostly because they don’t know what they really want.
Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is a hardcore feminist who is out to prove that she, and by extension all women, are better than her male counterparts and can do anything she sets her mind to, while Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) is a quiet but equally proud feminist who would follow Molly to the ends of the Earth. The two spend all four years of high school getting the best grades in class, getting into the most prestigious colleges in the world, only to find out that the kids they thought spent their entire time partying also got into those same colleges. Feeling like they wasted their time in high school, Molly and Amy set out to do what their classmates always did to prove that they are not the stereotypical bookworms.
One thing that certainly puts “Booksmart” ahead of “Superbad” is that these girls come across as confused high schoolers who aren’t sure what they want out of life anymore. Their whole lives have been turned upside down, and Feldstein and Devers’ angry and confused performances reflect that. The conflict between these two feels as genuine as their chemistry, where they’re unsure if going to a big party will solve anything or if they’ll just make a fool of themselves. Despite their hatred of men, I can see a lot of my own high school fears and anxieties in these two.
The comedy also feels very genuine and hits the nail on the head most of the time. A lot of the comedy comes from these high schoolers filling out the stereotypes that have become so synonymous with high school movies like “The Breakfast Club” or “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and turning them on their head. Some of the best include the theater majors that bring drama to every aspect of their lives and turn even karaoke into a performance piece, or the stoner chick that secretly knows everything and wants everyone to be as mellow and peaceful as she is. While Molly and Amy have some great moments for themselves, some of the best jokes belong to their supporting cast.
Overall, “Booksmart” may feel a lot like “Superbad” but there’s much more heart and honesty here. It always feels like these characters are in high school and that they are learning and growing from one another. There are a ton of hilarious moments and just as many hilarious characters, while almost all get a serious moment of reflection or maturity. As far as movies about high school go, “Booksmart” might be one of the best ones out there.
Final Grade: A-