Booksmart; Outsmarting Stereotypes

by Rose Lehrman on February 28, 2020

Olivia Wilde’s 2019 film Booksmart takes all the stereotypes from every buddy comedy and teen movie and dismantles and disproves them all.

The film centers around Amy (Amy Anstler) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), two high school seniors who have been academic overachievers for their entire high school careers, who realize the night before graduation that they have one night left to have partied in high school. They set out to find a graduation party and end up on a roundabout journey that takes them all over the Los Angeles suburb that they live in. From an unintentional drug-induced trip to multiple romantic mistakes, Molly and Amy experience multiple years of high school parties in one night.

Amy is lesbian—not the type of character that gets a lot of exposure in mainstream Hollywood films. Yet, her sexualiy is not shoved in the audience’s face like it is in films that try to be “inclusive” and “woke”; it is simply part of her character. Amy has a pretty sizable crush on Ryan, a girl from her school who at first seems very stereotypically lesbian: she skates and she dresses pretty masculinely. One reason that Molly is so determined to get Amy to the party is because Ryan will be there. The other reason is that Molly has her own sizable crush on the party’s host, Nick, a jock who is out of Molly’s league. When Molly and Amy get to the party, however, it is revealed that Ryan and Nick are dating. Both Molly and Amy are devastated, but this plot twist serves to shatter the perception that just because someone looks and acts a certain way doesn’t mean that they are one thing or the other.

Expectation-defying characters become a theme. The annoying rich boy who has a crush on Molly turns out to be a genuinely nice person who just wants someone to care about him. The notorious “slut” turns out to be smart; she’s headed to Yale in the fall.

As a member of the generation targeted by this film, I feel more represented by a film than I have in a long time. It appears to me that as times change, many filmmakers don’t quite know how to express what it’s like to be young in a way that feels real to a lot of people my age. At the same time, this film manages to retain enough of a cinematic feel to it, so that it doesn’t make audiences as uncomfortable as it would if every piece of reality were retained.

All things considered, this is a really good film. It keeps the reality that is high school and infuses it with just a little something extra. Mixing humor, love, sex and the pressure of high school, this is a film that can speak to most, if not all members of Gen Z and millennials. Booksmart cuts through the generational divide and speaks to the broad audience of anyone who remembers the feeling of being a teenager.