'Booksmart' Is 'Superbad' with a Heart

Directed by Olivia Wilde

Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte

BY Matt BobkinPublished May 22, 2019

A pair of teenage misfits aim to loosen up and put some notches in their bedposts (both figuratively and literally) on the last day of high school. Sound familiar? But Booksmart is no mere Superbad ripoff — Olivia Wilde's directorial debut gives Seth Rogen's breakthrough a Generation Z-friendly makeover, imbuing the rapid-fire one-liners and cringe comedy takes on teenage sexuality with a modern sense of purpose and vitality. Characters are given robust portrayals that balance the antics with intelligence, adding a strong sense of heart without sacrificing its edge.
Booksmart is hyper-built for the issues of today. Instead of Superbad's slackers, Booksmart follows the teacher's pets of a California high school — as played by rising stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (the younger sister of Superbad star Jonah Hill, in what feels like too fitting a choice to be a coincidence) — who realize that their ceaseless overachieving may not have been the optimal way to spend their high school years. The pair hit up a series of parties as they aim to fit four years of flirting, hookups and partying into a single night, and Wilde deftly navigates the antics with character-driven explorations.
Though frequently, deliberately over-the-top, it's a sharp take on the fleeting highs and soul-crushing lows of high school, with plenty of low-stakes moments magnified in the way the adolescent mind does best. From unrequited crushes to awkward first hookups, Booksmart hits on the universal feelings of the teenage bluster and insecurity that somehow occur simultaneously all the time.
While dressed up in more Hollywood glitz than last year's Bo Burnham-directed Eighth Grade, Booksmart hits the same raw, exposed nerves — though designed for today's social media-driven landscape, it's similarly bound to trigger plenty of flashbacks for adults of all generations.
Above all, Booksmart is tons of fun, from its mile-a-minute joke pacing to its star-studded, genre-spanning soundtrack that includes Lizzo, Rhye and Death Grips. The plot and pacing are designed to cram as much entertainment into a tight package, and handles it all with relative ease, with refreshing takes on modern feminism, sexuality and social media.
Booksmart tells a relevant, boundary-pushing story in a way that will speak to a lot of people, all while staying in the conventions of modern Hollywood storytelling.

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