sat 16/11/2019

Booksmart review - teen sex comedy with shallow feminist credentials | reviews, news & interviews

Booksmart review - teen sex comedy with shallow feminist credentials

Booksmart review - teen sex comedy with shallow feminist credentials

Olivia Wilde makes her directing debut with this buddy movie set during the last 24 hours of high school

Here come the nerds: Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Deaver as best friends Molly and Amy

The release of Booksmart is perfectly scheduled for half term, this high school buddy comedy is guaranteed to tempt youngsters away from their exam revision. It’s fast and funny and packed with squirm-inducing sex gags and a peppy soundtrack. Its heroes are Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Deaver), the class swots who forswore all extra-curricular fun in order to study hard and get into top universities. They are the teens who got fake ID not to go drinking underage but to use the 24-hour library. Molly corrects the punctuation on the graffiti in the toilets; for her gap year Amy is off to Botswana to help women make their own tampons. 

Now it’s the last ever day of school and the revelation that the jocks, cool kids and stoners who these Goody Two Shoes believed were destined to fail, are also heading for Ivy League colleges makes them realise that they, too, could have been having fun all along. Desperate to pack into one night all the sex and pranks they’ve studiously abjured, the girls go in search of the wildest party and stumble through various comic disasters along the way. Essentially Booksmart is a gender swap version of 2008’s Superbad, complete with Beanie Feldstein, the sister of its star Jonah Hill in the role of Molly. Cast after her energetic performance in Lady Bird, Feldstein displays great screwball timing and physicality, but she’s 25 and just not credible playing a high school student. 

There are knowing references to other coming of age comedies from The Breakfast Club to Dazed and Confused and Clueless but the movie’s unacknowledged godmother is Lena Dunham who created the TV series, Girls. Dunham proved that young women could be smart, funny and very explicit about their bodies and sexuality. It's hard to imagine the squirm-inducing scene in Booksmart where Molly teases Amy about using a cuddly panda as a sex toy without the precedent of Girls. Being gay in Booksmart isn't a question of braving societal disapproval; Amy has been out as a lesbian to her super tolerant Christian parents and at school for two years but has never actually kissed a girl. When she finally gets it on with the hot mean girl,  Hope (Diana Silvers), it all goes ickily awry but there’s no real trauma. 

Actor Olivia Wilde makes a creditable directing debut with Booksmart. Not only does she coax high-energy performances out of all the cast but she creates a standout stop-motion animation scene when the girls’ turn into Barbie dolls under the influence of an hallucinogen. But Booksmart falls short of being great. There’s a sense that its four screenwriters are trying just a bit too hard to combine #Me Too feminism with the gross-out comedy that made films like Bridesmaids such huge hits. The Netflix series Sex Education treads similar turf but with much sharper writing. And there’s something a little self-satisfied about the relentlessly upbeat gags about gender and the way that everything turns out alright in the end despite humiliation and heartbreak along the way. In the age of Trump's assault on abortion rights and rocketing mental health problems among young people, the faintly smug whiff of white middle-class girls leading charmed lives grates a little.

There’s a squirm-inducing scene where Molly teases Amy about using a cuddly panda as a sex toy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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