Booksmart (4 stars)

Booksmart

Geek girls party hard in an effervescent and edgy comedy from actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde

Geek girls get a well-deserved blowout in the fabulous first feature from actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde. The teen party movie has been done to death but Booksmart feels box-fresh in its focus on characters who have traditionally been sidelined. Ballsy in its comedic and visual verve, Wilde's debut pops all over the shop as it combines bags of bad attitude with poignant realisations and savvy to spare.

It's not quite hip to be square, but best friends Molly and Amy (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) are proud to be brainiacs, with the aggressively self-possessed, brittle Molly sneering at those she sees as less academically focused. Hell-bent on becoming a Supreme Court Justice, just like her hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she's surrendered any semblance of a social life to make that happen. When Molly discovers that several of her peers have managed to secure spots at Ivy League establishments without living like monks, she becomes psychotically jealous. And so, the girls set out to fit four years of fun into a single, eve-of-graduation all-nighter.

Feldstein (the supporting star of Ladybird and sister of Jonah Hill) steps up to leading lady status with in-your-face aplomb in a strikingly confident comic turn, complemented by Wilde's zesty direction and a swaggering hip-hop soundtrack. Penned by four screenwriters (all female), the writing is often superb: 'Would you be afraid to go to Uganda?' Amy asks obliquely to try and establish whether her crush Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) is gay.

Not judging a book by its cover is a message we've seen a lot, but rarely has it been applied so broadly, in a film where no-one is what they at first seem. Our protagonists' predicament may be a platform for the usual hedonistic hilarity but their crisis rings true in a society where pressure to succeed is triggering a mental health crisis amongst the young, with rite-of-passage fun being forgone.

Wonderfully played by a universally on-point ensemble, it's rare to see this many well-drawn and diverse teenage characters who all get their moment in the sun. There are superficial shades of The Breakfast Club in its subversion of stereotypes, but such comparisons ultimately feel redundant in an effervescent and edgy film that's thoroughly in tune with our time.

General release from Mon 27 May.

Booksmart

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 45min
  • Directed by: Olivia Wilde
  • Cast: Skyler Gisondo, Kaitlyn Dever, Lisa Kudrow
  • UK release: 27 May 2019

Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) are proud to be brainiacs, but on their last day of high school they resolve to fit as much fun as they can into a single night. Wilde’s debut feature is zesty and confident with box-fresh writing, well-drawn characters and a swaggering hip-hop soundtrack; Feldstein, in particular, steps…

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