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'Booksmart' review: Fresh, endearing take on the party-hearty movie

Beanie Feldstein, left, stars as Molly and Kaitlyn

Beanie Feldstein, left, stars as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever as Amy in Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, "Booksmart." Credit: Annapurna Pictures

PLOT On the eve of graduation, two studious high-school girls go wild.

CAST Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Skylar Gisondo

RATED R (crude humor and sexuality)


BOTTOM LINE A female take on the party-hearty genre. Still crass, but also sweet.

To find out how post-millennials party, look no further than “Booksmart.” Olivia Wilde's directorial debut is a fresh take on the old story about two high-school friends who decide to chuck the books and get cray-zee. This time, though, our heroes are girls rather than boys, and their world is not the feral landscape of bullies and roughnecks that you, perhaps, grew up in. Everyone is cool with everything in “Booksmart.”

To start, the film is about a gay-straight friendship, between out-but-shy Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and bossy Molly (Beanie Feldstein, who shares a certain brashness with her brother Jonah Hill). These girls raise no eyebrows at Crockett High, a Los Angeles public school where social cliques seem fluid and the bathrooms are coed. What irks people is how Molly flaunts her recent acceptance to a certain college in New Haven. (“Just say Yale,” groans Jason Sudeikis as Principal Brown.)

With great relish, the school bimbo reveals she also got into Yale — living proof that one can indeed balance work and play. Now, on the eve of graduation, Molly sees one last chance to cut loose, at a party hosted by her secret crush, Nick (Mason Gooding).

What follows is a night of zigzagging misadventures, but “Booksmart” is more than just a woke “Superbad.” At each phase of the evening, Amy and Molly discover new aspects of the classmates they thought they knew. Wealthy Jared (a touching Skylar Gisondo) is a lonely misfit; the drama-club leader, George (Noah Galvin), constructs flamboyant fantasies to escape his dull family life; even Nick has more to him than a disarming smile. Meanwhile, Amy pines for Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), a tomboyish skateboarder.

Because “Booksmart” is so aggressively progressive, it’s worth noting that the movie has its own blind spot. Everyone here is well off, destined for an elite college (or, in one case, a high-paying job in tech) and unacquainted with anyone different. These characters talk about “gender performance” versus “sexual orientation,” but they don’t seem much concerned with wealth and privilege.

Still, it’s hard not to love these confident, capable, problem-free post-millennials. Dever and Feldstein are extremely endearing as Amy and Molly, two quick-witted weirdos with a sisterly bond. And in the end, these kids aren’t so different from the ones who, more than 30 years ago, looked past each others’ labels and found common ground in John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club.” Then as now, the kids will be all right.

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