Beanie Feldstein on Booksmart: 'The lesson of the movie or what it's asking you to walk away with is a little bit less judgement'
Lead actors Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever discuss their roles in Olivia Wilde's energetic high school comedy
Beanie Feldstein made a huge impression in Greta Gerwig's Oscar nominated solo debut feature Lady Bird in a supporting role as the titular character's endearing best friend. Now she takes the lead alongside Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart, a vibrantly energetic high school comedy by actress turned director Olivia Wilde in which two best friends go wild on the last night before graduation. Having spent their time tied to their books the two academic whiz kids decide to party like it's the last days of disco. It's a rites of passage that turns the tables on the typical archetypes associated with the genre; there are cool kids in every clique, from the theatre kids to the jocks, and as the girls discover, all they needed to do was embrace the unknown to be welcomed in.
The young women are seated side by side on a sofa in a London hotel suite, refreshed from an afternoon break and excited to chat about the film. Their deep respect for Olivia Wilde is apparent from the get-go and their passion is infectious as they talk me through what female friendships made an impact on them growing up. 'We always talk about Lizzie McGuire and Rory and Paris on Gilmore Girls,' says Beanie. 'Also Raven Symone and Chelsea in That's so Raven, that friendship is like ride or die!' enthuses Kaitlyn. With Booksmart the two actors can and should proudly add their characters' names to the ever-growing list of gorgeously written female teens on screen. Kaitlyn explains why they are special to her, 'What I loved about these two girls is their love for each other and they never feel the need to be competitive with each other which is so beautiful. They know exactly who they are as people and they have no shame in it. They take full ownership in being smart.'
On the subject of how the film cleverly subverts stereotypes, Beanie dives in, saying, 'I think what's so clever about Booksmart and the way that Olivia directed it and the way Katy Silberman wrote it is it uses those archetypes that we've all learned to recognise from high-school films and then expertly cracks open the idea of what a stereotype even is – not just Molly and Amy but the entire incredible ensemble cast. Very quickly, you learn that no one is what meets the eye. The lesson of the movie or what it's asking you to walk away with is a little bit less judgement, and maybe an inclination to look at others more complexly. I love that about the film. It sort of cracks open the idea of who's cool and who isn't cool, who's smart and who isn't smart. It makes those labels impossible to nail down.'
Burgeoning desire is also wonderfully handled through Kaitlyn's character, Amy, who is still to share a first kiss with a girl. The queer representation doesn't feel tokenistic, and there's more than one gay character in the film; another reason why the film feels so refreshingly progressive for a mainstream comedy. It's like the world has finally caught up with Gregg Araki's teens. Kaitlyn acknowledges this sentiment and elaborates, saying, 'I wish I'd seen so much representation growing up. It was definitely something I thought about in playing Amy but I never wanted to approach it in a way where I felt like I was trying to force anything. Even talking to Olivia about it, we didn't want to put it under a spotlight because it shouldn't be. Normally in the past you'd see the queer character and she was solely there to be the gay character, or she was maybe the butt of the joke. You never normally see a queer character and a straight character in a friendship in the leading role and it's a gift to be a part of something like that. I think for me it was just making sure that it wasn't just her defining characteristic. There's so much more to Amy than her sexuality which I think is so beautiful and she fully explores it.'
General release from Fri 31 May.