Booksmart is an instant classic. I am not being hyperbolic: It is so good. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a coveted 100% rating.
The film opens with an inspirational voice-over, recorded by none other than Maya Rudolph. “Good morning, winner. Take a deep breath. Good. You’re ready to dominate this day. You’ve worked harder than everyone and that is why you’re a champion.” The camera pans over a bedroom, showing pictures of Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, until it zooms in on a girl sitting on her floor: it’s Beanie Feldstein’s Molly. “Fuck those losers. Fuck them in their stupid fucking faces,” the narration ends. Molly opens her eyes, pops out her retainer, and the film begins. Perfection.
This shot — the close up, the taking out of the retainer, staring directly into the camera — signals that this is not going to be your average teen movie about a nerdy “booksmart” girl. There’s no makeover in Booksmart, no “omg, she’s hot now” scene, not even a love interest. There are just two girls — Molly (Beanie) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) — being fully themselves. And that’s the power of Booksmart: It celebrates the kind of characters who, in a lesser teen movie, would be relegated to a supporting role, boxed into an easy stereotype. Here, they’re supporting characters no more.
That goes for the actresses themselves, too. “Kaitlyn and I had been supporting players in other incredible stories… So when we knew that we would be leading this cast, we didn’t take it lightly,” Beanie explains.
Speaking of supporting characters, the rest of Booksmart’s cast meets Beanie and Kaitlyn at their level, with standout performances from Billie Lourd, Molly Gordon, Noah Galvin, Skyler Gisondo, and legitimately everyone else in this movie. They all deliver nuanced performances of high school seniors dealing with their impending graduations. And even though each character falls into a certain archetype (Beanie and Kaitlyn play the high-achieving straight A students, Billie the rich cool girl, Noah the controlling theater geek, and so on), they’re so much more than that. Especially Beanie’s Molly.
I’ve been obsessed with Beanie Feldstein ever since she appeared on screen in Lady Bird, when she delivered “it’s the titular role” with perfect energy. As Hunter Harris writes in Vulture, “Feldstein’s performance as Molly in Booksmart stretches the ferocity of that one line reading across 100 minutes.”
In Lady Bird, Beanie played the best friend. In Booksmart, she’s the star. And she shines. Her delivery is perfect. She is funny, self-assured, and real. When we’re giving Beanie Feldstein a life achievement award many years down the line, this film will be what we look back on and say, this was her breakout.
The chemistry between Beanie and Kaitlyn also take the film to a new level. During filming, Beanie and Kaitlyn lived together in order to really get to know each other. “It was actually advice from my brother, [Jonah Hill]. Olivia and Kaitlyn and I had thought about it, and then were like, we should do it. I told my brother about it and he was like, ‘That’s the best idea you could do.’ He was like, ‘Michael Cera and I, when we were doing Superbad, spent every minute together for two months leading up to it.’ Kaitlyn and I had already decided to it, so we were so excited. It was so wonderful,” Beanie told Thrillist. (In another interview, she explained, “We’d eat pancakes and watch Gilmore Girls in our pajamas and run lines and then go back to work.”)
Indeed, it’s the relationship between Molly and Amy that drives the plot forward (as opposed to the more standard romantic relationship found in pretty much any other teen flick). One of my favorite scenes comes after Molly and Amy get dressed for their night out. They walk out of the closet, stare at each other in silence for a few beats, then begin throwing compliments at each other, rapid-fire.
“During this 16-, 17- , 18-year-old experience, that late adolescence, there is so much emotional and literal upheaval,” Olivia Wilde, who made the switch from acting to directing for this film, explained to Vanity Fair. “Your life is cracking open and changing, and there’s this one person who knows you so intimately, better than your parents. I think about it as finding your first soulmate.” Which: YES. We need more films that celebrate friendship soulmates where the protagonist’s story isn’t intertwined with that of the boy (or girl) she pines for. Don’t get me wrong, I love rom-coms. I’ve watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before a bajillion times. But until Booksmart, I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t know how powerful it is to see two girls being their authentic selves, not changing a damn thing for anyone else.
“Someone very sweetly Instagrammed me and Kaitlyn and Olivia after seeing the movie in Boston and said, ‘I’m so jealous of the next generation because they get to have Booksmart as their sleepover movie.’ That wrecked me. I was like, That’s it,” Beanie told Vulture. It’s easy to picture: This film will play at so many sleepovers, at sleepaway camp reunions, and in college dorms snuggled with roommates. And people will feel seen.
“There can never be too many female friendship stories, as far as I’m concerned. I hope there are thousands,” Beanie said. Hopefully Booksmart begins a new wave.