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CINEMA: The Graduates

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BOOKSMART (directed by Olivia Wilde, 102 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Olivia Wilde, who is probably best known for her role as Quorra in Tron: Legacy, steps behind the camera for her feature length directorial debut, the whip-smart, woke teen comedy Booksmart. This SXSW darling is the story of two joyless, over-achieving besties, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who have an epiphany the night before graduation: they could’ve had fun AND excelled in their academic studies. And so, they endeavor to make their way to the cool kid’s party happening that night, detouring along the way through the one percenter kids’ yacht rager, and the drama kids’ murder mystery soiree. As you would expect during their adventure they not only discover who they are, but rediscover the joys and the sorrows of their friendship in a charming story that’s like a funnier Superbad, that’s more also sophisticated.

The film, which takes place in our current hyper politically correct climate works thanks to its progressive take on its two enlightened, suburban feminist protagonists. The film is also well versed in the twentysomethings high school comedy tropes, and manages to navigate them with an impossibly clever script that seems to hit every mark possible.  This is all brought home thanks to the film’s amazing ensemble cast, led by Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird, What We Do in the Shadows) as Molly, the precocious overachiever who drags her lesbian BFF Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) kicking and screaming through this descent into the bowels of a night they will never forget.

Ironically, it is their fractured relationship that is the glue that binds the narrative together,  as well as its forward momentum.The film also manages to keep all its laughs above the belt, no easy task given the roiling currents of gender, race and sexuality currently surging through the country.  But Booksmart pulls off its guilt-free P.C. humor thanks to a woke script that impressively tackles the worst parts of adolescence while still bringing out its best. It’s a minefield that both the film and our protagonists emerge from unscathed, leaving the audience oddly hopeful and optimistic. With Booksmart, Olivia Wilde turns in a flawless debut that is a hilariously heartwarming coming of age story. I hate to use a cliché phrase like “feel good comedy”, but it’s exactly that and it makes no attempt to be anything but and it’s a better film for it.

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