The Great American High School Movie is still the same. And that’s actually very good.
Music and wardrobe change, and gender equality has evolved over the years. But there’s something reassuring about the fact that “Booksmart” is a familiar collection of jokes, angst, and regret, with lengthy party scenes taking place – of course – on the last night of the past year.
Refreshed by a lively rhythm and two engaging main performances, the formula still works like a charm. The Class of 2019 is fortunate to have this as a farewell statement.
On the last day of school, two top students realize their mistake: they worked so hard to excel in their studies, they never had time to party. That will change tonight.
Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein, from “Ladybird”) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, “Detroit”) are the party wannabes, and their nighttime attempt at having fun becomes a very entertaining, at times surreal odyssey. This includes a puppet streak that shouldn’t be wasted here.
Molly, the school butler, is a bossy who won’t admit that she has a crush on a boy she knows isn’t right for her. The reserved Amy loves a classmate, but isn’t sure the girl is gay, so she ends up asking, “Are you afraid to go to Uganda?” as the poll line.
The supporting cast has a few familiar faces: Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s steadfast parents, former “Daily Show” regular Jessica Williams as simpatico teacher and Jason Sudeikis as school principal. But it’s mostly populated by up-and-coming actors – even though, according to the usual high school movie lore, many of these actors look oddly old to play teenagers.
Some of the stars include Skylar Gisondo and Billie Lourd (daughter of Carrie Fisher) as particularly eccentric classmates, Molly Gordon and Diana Silvers as weirdly hostile members of In Crowd and Mason Gooding as the dunce. school hunky.
“Booksmart” is the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, who demonstrates a skillful touch with comedic timing. A few ambitious ideas pay off, like a big reveal that comes as Amy is immersed in a swimming pool, or a lengthy confrontation that finally breaks Molly and Amy’s bond.
There’s also a one-off crazy scene involving a pizza delivery guy (Mike O’Brien) who gets a glorious punchline much later in the movie. Wilde keeps the film on track but cleverly makes way for these weird little syncopated hijackings.
The movie is R-rated enough to be believable as a portrayal of how real people talk, but not too R-rated, if you know what I mean – there’s no scorching about it- even, unlike the Seth Rogen school of modern comedy. The film’s final line, an exuberant F-bomb, is one of the sweetest moments of the film year.
Is “Booksmart” significantly different from classics like “Dazed and Confused” and “Clueless”? Nope. Will it become a classic of the genre anyway? You better believe it.
“Booksmart” (4 stars)
A new classic of the high school genre, this comedy has two engaging main performances and a lively comedic rhythm. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are high performing academics who realize they have to attend a party before the end of their final year of study; chaos ensues. Director Olivia Wilde, who flaunts a skillful touch with fast material.
Evaluation: R, for language, subject
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall