Review: Olivia Wilde’s Directorial Debut ‘Booksmart’ (2019)

+ Recommended – R, Comedy, Drama, (102 minutes)


There was much praise for Olivia Wilde, as her first feature debuted at SXSW. However, at every festival there are always a few films that garner that kind of buzz. What’s different about Booksmart, though, is that it is one of very few examples, at least for me, where my expectations—due to the initial reactions—didn’t lead to disappointment. Being disappointed is a common occurrence in this field of work, too. Rest assured, this film likely won’t let anyone down, whether it be a casual movie-goer or a hardcore cinephile.

Booksmart Trailer

The film follows two young women, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), as they attempt to redeem themselves and their high school experience. Both of the characters have had plentiful academic success, but at the expense of having fun (partying, dating, etc.). Before their graduation ceremony, they make a pledge to cram all of fun they could have been having throughout their four years into one night. It’s basically organized chaos in the very best way possible. It’s smart, tantalizingly refreshing, and is full of heart; the kind of heart that audiences desperately deserve to experience in a cinematic setting.

Yes, there are countless films in this bloated genre that explore the same thematic content—and most are pretty mediocre. However, the structure, itself, is what is being manipulated for maximum affect. Rather than spend countless time in exposition, learning about each and every character (often achieved through stale, unnecessary dialogue), before transitioning to the rising action and climax—“the party” for most other movies—Wilde opts to let the rising action, climax, and even a portion of the resolution be dedicated to the motives and the actions of the characters that, in return, highlight their key traits and suture their development. The party is the journey, not the destination.

Some sequences around the climax of the film are among my favorite shots in cinema this year, and you’ll know when you see them. Jason McCormick is to thank for this excellent work in the cinematography department. The fluid camera movement is synergistic with both the story, and Wilde’s direction. The chemistry radiating between the cast is magnetic. Not only were Dever and Feldstein a perfect pair—spending months together before, and during, filming—Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, and Skyler Gisondo were a natural fit for the film. Perhaps my favorite performance came from Billie Lourd’s Gigi, who effortlessly stole the stoplight from the cast and easily had one of the best ongoing gags in recent comedies.

One thing is certain: me, and many others, will be waiting for Olivia Wilde’s next outing in the directors chair. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a solid picture to have fun with at the theaters, you’ve definitely found the one. This film is near perfection and, currently, is my top choice for best movie of 2019 thus far. However, you should take everything I say with a grain of salt until you see it for yourself. Comedy typically isn’t my go-to genre, but I made an exception for this and you should too.

Image via Annapurna Pictures
Image via Annapurna Pictures
Image via Annapurna Pictures

Author: Jared Charles

I am the owner of The Burrow Reviews. Currently studying Film, English, Political Science, and Gender Studies.

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