Booksmart ★★★★½

The most fun teen comedy I’ve seen in years, Booksmart takes the language of high school party movies and gives the genre a shot in the arm. Like the recent Game Night, it makes great use of a story structure that plays like a quest, with its bookish leads (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) determined to track down the year's best graduation party and have a slice of typical teen debauchery they've spent all of high school avoiding. But what sets it apart from ostensibly similar teen comedies is its focus on the pair's deep and long standing friendship, and what graduation means for its future. The stakes here don't come from whether they'll find the party, but whether their relationship can survive the night when tested. Such a focus on female friendship is refreshing, and coming as a first directorial feature from actor Olivia Wilde it is a remarkably confident film that tempers off-the-wall formal and comedic elements with trust in the chemistry of its leads.

I've heard some criticisms that Booksmart creates an unrealistic vision of high school, where even the most antagonistic supporting teens don't present the true threats of violence, misogyny, homophobia, and classism that can define many people's experience of high school. It's either not trying to capture the realities of high school or is coming from a privileged enough perspective that those things aren't front of mind—there do seem to be an awful lot of kids getting into prestigious colleges with seemingly little effort.

But I actually found that one of the elements of the film I liked, for the way it avoids creating outright villains. Its supporting cast aren't quite broad teen cliches, but they are fulfilling a kind of stock role—the popular jock, the stoner, the theatre kid—in a way that I enjoyed for how it made them memorable but still only as important as they served to reflect the girls' relationship to each other and themselves. Billie Lourd is a standout in a film full of colourful characters.

The most bravura sequence in the film is one that tips its hat to Wilde's directorial talents. The four-minute seemingly uninterrupted take begins in a swimming pool where the entire context for the central characters has shifted, and follows through the interior as we watch the effects of the knowledge one character has that the other character doesn't. Wilde wisely lets the camera focus—but not rest—on Feldstein and Dever's conversation, even as the pair is slowly also becoming the centre of attention for the extras in the background of the scene who always remain out of focus. As climaxes of teen comedies go, this is one packed with emotional heft.

Booksmart is a warm and hilarious ode to female friendship and coming-of-age.