Following the success of Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” in 2017, a number of films offering realistic portrayals of messy teenage girls figuring it all out — without being a punch line! — have hit theaters recently. And debuting in May, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, “Booksmart,” will be no different.
The movie follows two best friends, Amy, played by Kaitlyn Dever, and Molly, played by Beanie Feldstein (of “Lady Bird” fame), who focused so much on their grades in high school that they forgot to have fun. “We have to go to a party tonight,” Molly, sporting a Yale-emblazoned sweatshirt, demands in the trailer. “Nobody knows that we are fun!”
The film then follows everything that happens after they make the decision to let loose and attend a party on their very last day of high school. The movie looks fun and fresh with lots of casual representation; for example, Amy is openly gay and the writers treat her romantic arc like any other teen movie would.
The trailer was released a month ago to no shortage of buzz. However, there seems to be one sentiment that’s filling the comment sections of sites across the web: that “Booksmart” is the female “Superbad.”
“Superbad” was a 2007 film that starred Michael Cera and Jonah Hill (who also happens to be Feldstein’s older brother) as, you guessed it, two nerds who want to let loose as their last hurrah in high school. “Superbad” is a classic in its own right, and I believe most of the comparisons being made between the films are done out of nostalgia.
That being said, I feel as though it’s unfair to write something off as the “female” version of anything. Whereas “Ghostbusters” and “Ocean’s 11” marketed themselves as female-fronted versions of their predecessors, “Booksmart” made no similar claim. Still, since then, critics have been quick to write off female-led films that bear any similarities to an already-produced male-fronted film as the “female version.” It’s “Stand By Me” vs. “Now and Then” all over again.
However, alleged comparisons or not, “Booksmart” offers audiences a glimpse into the psyche of two high school girls that has heretofore been largely underrepresented. In the film, the two best friends are unabashedly goofy, but their naïveté does not diminish their complexity.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the teen movies I had growing up, but I rarely saw characters that portrayed the “unpopular” kids realistically. Many of the films I saw styled these outcasts as one-dimensional freaks or desperate status-climbers who would do anything to get with the quarterback.
In fact, in some cases, the so-called “nerdy and unpopular” girl sometimes even turned out to be cooler than the peers she aspired to be like (I’m looking at you, “A Cinderella Story!”). “Booksmart” is sensitive to that insecurity and the desire to belong, which all high schoolers have felt at one point or another, while also allowing them to be confident in their own skin and the lives they’re creating for themselves.
It’s not rare to see a film that involves teenage boys, or men of any age for that matter, talking about sex and making dirty jokes; the whole basis of “Superbad” itself is the main characters’ desire to lose their virginity.
On the other hand, it’s rare to see women being silly while also being taken seriously as characters with emotional depth. I call it the Melissa McCarthy effect: You take a perfectly talented actress (check out “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “St.Vincent” for her dramatic chops) and place her almost exclusively in movies where she’s always just the butt of the joke.
Granted, it is perfectly valid for women to play goofy characters in goofy films, and it is perfectly valid for people to enjoy these films, but it is also important to know that silly women are more than just their jokes. Based on the trailer and early reviews following its appearance at South by Southwest in March, I am confident that “Booksmart” will be able to bridge this gap.
A lot of early buzz hails “Booksmart” as a new teen classic, possibly even the icon of our generation. (While “Lady Bird” was released in 2017, it takes place in the early 2000s without the all-too-powerful influence of iPhones and social media.)
Let’s hope it succeeds both in the box office and in everyone’s hearts, in order to continue a long line of positive representation of smart, funny, messy girls that are a lot like the ones that filled your high school hallway.