If there's one thing you've heard about Booksmart, it's probably some comparison to Superbad. I can't count how many people have called this film Superbad for women, which does a disservice to Wilde's film and to the four women who wrote it.
That is not to say that Superbad is a horrible film. I actually quite like it, and for a long time I have considered it my favorite of the "teen party comedies" that have been released in the past few decades. In the most basic ways, Booksmart treads a similar path, exploring a close friendship over the course of a single night as they prepare to go off to college. However, that is where the films diverge from each other.
Booksmart, among many other things, is a film concerned with perception. More specifically, how people are judged basic on what they do or what they look like. While we're used to this with main characters in these films, especially if the protagonist is a nerd and his romantic interest is extremely popular and attractive. Booksmart offers this perspective, but it also flips it on its head. It's not just our leading women who are being judged, but it's also them who do the judging.
It's this turn on a tired formula that helps make Booksmart feel fresh and personal, in a way that many teen party comedies aren't. Not only do these characters feel like real people (not always a given in this genre), but they also have real flaws. While our sympathy is often immediately aligned with our main characters, Booksmart throws off our equilibrium by bucking expectations. Amy and Molly are studious to a fault, and the people who they believe aren't working hard actually are. This realization is the catalyst that kickstarts the rest of the film, and thus the characters' understanding of themselves.
It's through this lens through which the most important and unique element of the film shines: its humanity. As much as the film is funny, and as much as it explores and bends teen party tropes we've become accustomed with, it also has genuine heart. We come to care for Amy and Molly, and their friendship is delicately constructed so that the final few moments of the film feel earned.
It's this distinction that cements Booksmart as a masterpiece for me. All too often, the people and the friendships in these films feel forced, either due to bad chemistry, bad writing, bad acting, or a combination of all three. Not only does this writing feel genuine, but it also offers a unique perspective on how we interact with people. We're all guilty of assuming intentions or characteristics based on preconceived notions - notions which often aren't based in truth. When you push past the modern humor, the great writing, and the hilarious performances, that is the factor that makes this even better than Superbad. In fact, I would hazard a guess that Booksmart will become an important film for a lot of young people.
written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman || directed by Olivia Wilde
Rated R || 102 MIN || Released on 24 May 2019