May 24, 2019

A hilariouas teen comedy with smart heroines and important themes.


Grade: A

Director: Olivia Wilde

Screenplay: Susanna Fogel (The Spy Who Dumped me), et al.

Cast: Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12), Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 42 min

By: John DeSando

"They did two things. We're the a--holes who only did one." Molly (Beanie Feldstein)

Two high school besties, Molly and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), in Booksmart have overachieved academically, shorting themselves in the more raucous activities they now, at graduation time, resent they didn’t do. As in the most successful coming-of-age comedies, starting with the male-centered Superbad, while throwing in Bridesmaids for a little adult naughtiness, the answer is a wild party the night before the graduation ceremony.

Although the drunken activities are not that creative, the patter is smart screwball, too fast and witty to be digested in one sitting. By far superior to Super Bad because the boys there are not the sharpest, these girls are inventive academics needing only a hallucinogen and an affair to complete their education.

As a side note, Molly learns that although she consumed her time in studying and got into Yale, a few slacking others made it into Stanford, Harvard, and Georgetown (mentioned twice, and my alma mater). Molly seems to realize there is more than just academics to young life, and excellence can come in the most unlikely places.

Rather than being dismissive about extracurricular dissipation, Booksmart accepts all kinds of people and ways of life. This democratic inclusion is a bold difference from the teen coming-of- age comedies that have favored white exclusion, outsized bullies, and boring bright nerds.

Olivia Wilde in her first effort directs with the ease of a veteran, changing the pace as necessary, a film fluidly and subtly framed by the appropriate music and smart dialogue. Although she follows some of the formula that takes our heroines up and down the experiential arc, she cannily keeps the two girls’ friendship genuine and lasting.  That’s real female empowerment.

And that’s the meta theme here: True friendship is the high-school lesson learned to be kept a lifetime. Booksmart is a smart, super good comedy that will have you laughing all the time and shaking your head in approval. It is one of the best movies of 2019 and one of the genre’s best examples.

Books are smart, but friendship is better.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at