SXSW: Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in "Booksmart"
Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 8:00AM
Abe Fried-Tanzer in Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Booksmart, High School Movies, Kaitlyn Dever, Olivia Wilde, SXSW, Skyler Gisondo, comedy

Abe Fried-Tanzer reporting from the SXSW Festival

Everyone loves a buddy comedy – usually. It’s rare that such films are both crowd-pleasing and critically well-received, since entertainment value doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with quality. Though its detractors would surely disagree, Superbad is a great example of a film that, while inherently stupid, manages to be intelligent and funny in its portrayal of two teenagers trying desperately to have sex before the end of high school. It’s fitting that Jonah Hill’s younger sister Beanie Feldstein, who is close to the age he was when he made that film in 2007, is one of the two stars of a new buddy comedy that feels particularly forward-focused.

In Booksmart, Feldstein plays Molly, the class president and valedictorian whose need to point out other people’s mistakes and shortcomings earns her few friends. She has the only friend she needs in Amy, played by Kaitlyn Dever, who shares her passion for homework and whose social skills are only moderately more palpable...

On the eve of their graduation, Molly is horrified to realize that everyone she thought was slacking off around her is actually headed for a bright educational future. Determined to do something they haven’t done – and eager to help facilitate Amy hooking up with her crush, a girl named Ryan – Molly insists that they go to their first party, leading to a wild night with more than a few unexpected and unintended developments.

It’s not common to see a movie like this with two actresses top billed, and what a welcome change it is! This marks Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut, and, judging by audience reaction at a SXSW screening, it’s a tremendous hit. The antics and language usually reserved for boys and men are adopted by these two smart protagonists whose thoughts aren’t necessarily any purer even if their regular behavior is unusually mature for their age. Booksmart contains some fantastic and very funny references to modern themes about sexuality and relationships, which feel far from forced as these characters broadcast them to anyone who will (or won’t) listen.

Feldstein, who played the title character’s best friend in Lady Bird and appeared in Hello, Dolly on Broadway, is sure to net many more film roles like this. Dever, who has impressed under Southern garb deep in the woods in the likes of Justified and Them That Follow, demonstrates that she’s more than capable of anchoring a mainstream film. Together, they’re a formidable pair, with just as much platonic chemistry as Hill and Michael Cera. Skyler Gisondo and Billie Lourd are particularly memorable among Molly and Amy’s classmates, but they're just two members of what's a terrific ensemble cast. Like the other films in its subgenre that Booksmart emulates, it has a tendency to go overboard and test the lines of believability, but it does so in the best way, making a social point in the process of achieving true hilarity, the latter of which is strongest test of quality in comedy.

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Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (http://thefilmexperience.net/).
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