Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut offers a heartwarming example of teen girls accepting and supporting each other, rather than engaging in backstabbing competition.
Booksmart is the best film you are not watching right now. Considering it debuted the same weekend as Disney’s Aladdin remake, I’m not surprised, and I get it, but you need to fix this.
Booksmart is being heralded as Superbad with a feminist wash, and critics are not completely wrong about that. But this film is so much more than merely a gender-flipped version of a teenage-boy movie.
Olivia Wilde has directed a pretty solid high school party film, for sure. But at its core, Booksmart is a film that finally does the friendships of teen girls the justice they have long been denied. Starring Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as childhood best friends Amy and Molly, the film not only shows a more accurate representation of what it is like to be a high school girl with high school girl friendships, it completely celebrates it.
When Molly discovers that this entire time, she and Amy’s plan to focus on their studies and get into good colleges has a massive loophole in it (it turns out that they could have partied and experienced life while having a good time — who knew?), they decide to pack 12 years of adventure into one night. And of course, as they try to crash the popular party the night before graduation, hijinks ensue.
The girls consistently celebrate each other and lift each other up; in fact, one of the film’s running gags is the way they spend an exorbitant amount of time complimenting and fawning over each other. By the end of the film, when they achieve a reconciliation with all of the girls in their class, they all end up supporting and lifting each other up.
One of the most important plot points is Molly’s support of Amy, who has been an out lesbian for two years. Molly is loud and proud with her support of her best friend, even going so far as to help her try to figure out how to research having sex with another girl for the first time. “You just take what you would do to yourself and flip it,” Molly suggests at one point.
Molly is very adamant that Amy kiss a girl before leaving for college, and heavily encourages her to go after Ryan, a girl Amy has a crush on, while they are at the party. Of course, more shenanigans happen as a result, leading to more comedy. However, one of the points that this film should really be getting a lot of praise for as well is how the almost-sex scene between Amy and Hope (the quintessential mean girl) is handled.
Throughout film history, sex scenes involving two girls have been handled so badly that, honestly, I get immediately uncomfortable whenever I can sense one is about to happen. Sexuality with all teens, let alone teenage girls, is generally handled through a grossly exploitative lens.
But this? This is the lesbian almost-sex scene I didn’t know I needed in life. Wilde handles the entire moment between Hope and Amy with such tact and sincerity, which is rarely seen in film moments like this. It still doesn’t end well; in fact, it ends very awkwardly and uncomfortably. But if Wilde wanted to achieve real-life accuracy, that’s exactly how it should have been.
It is difficult enough to be a teenager, let alone a lesbian in high school, and this scene captures exactly what all of that feels like — for better and for worse. I don’t know a single person who has a perfect, storybook recollection of the time they had sex for the first time, and I’m not sure that I want to. Even though Amy was initially mortified that the moment ended because she vomited on poor Hope, there is something sincere and honest about their moment — something that everyone can connect with.
The fact that Amy and Hope were able to not only get over the awkwardness of this, but to acknowledge that they can laugh about it (and honestly, you should), makes Amy’s story and character growth that much better and stronger.
I left this film thinking that if this had come out when I was high school, I would be a completely different person right now, for many reasons. I’m sad that it wasn’t there for me at the time, and that I can’t know who that alternate version of me may be. But I am so glad that so many girls growing up will get to experience this film and know the things that were harder to learn and love when I was growing up — things films like Mean Girls and Heathers, both solid, excellent films, nonetheless miss the mark on.
Teen girl friendships should be celebrated and loved, not pushed aside in favor of encouragement to bully each other and tear each other down. Word of advice: being the girl who claims that “boys are better friends because no drama” just makes you look like an internalized misogynistic asshole.
Love yourself and your girlfriends, friend. It really, really is okay. And after all these years, I’m so glad a movie finally gets that.
Images via Annapurna Pictures