'Booksmart' Review

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Olivia Wilde is the latest actor turned director hoping to make a splashy feature directorial debut. “Booksmart” attempts to be the Gen Z version of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. Instead, thanks to a flawed concept, ridiculous characters, unethical situations, unrealistic dialogue and a flat-out absurd vision, it’s bad times for anyone unfortunate enough to see it.

Kaitlyn Dever (“Last Man Standing”) and Beanie Feldstein (“Lady Bird”) play Amy and Molly, two California high school seniors and best friends who’ve avoided partying throughout high school to focus on getting top grades and into great colleges. But on the last day of their senior year, they find out that all their classmates who spent the past four years goofing-off still got into prestigious colleges.

So, to make-up for lost time and not feel like they completely wasted the past four years, Amy and Molly decide to go to a party, even though Graduation is the following morning. What could go wrong? A lot. What goes wrong with this film? Even more.

Let’s start with the premise: The entire narrative revolves around the fact that Amy and Molly don’t know the location of the night’s hot party. We’re supposed to believe these two apparently intelligent young women can’t find out where this huge party — that all their classmates are at — classmates they interact with everyday — is being held. Utterly ridiculous. But without this key element there is no story. Wilde and the four writers responsible for this script ignore the fact that the teens would’ve either heard about the party details at school, or asked someone at school, or SOMEONE posting a pic/video from the party would’ve tagged the location on Instagram or Facebook.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein
Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein

Common sense is ignored in the name of moving things along. This happens a lot in “Booksmart” – which relies on poorly written characters constantly doing illogical things.

The biggest problem with “Booksmart” is that everyone involved simply tries too hard. Every performance is over-acted. Every line of dialogue is over-written. Every situation is over-the-top. Every scene is over-shot. Every song choice is over-played. Even the few attempts to create subtle, genuine moments are over-wrought.

Wilde runs the emotional gamut. She forcefully tries to make us feel something in every scene, in the most obvious and overwhelming ways. And she makes the rookie mistake of over-playing the quirky card. One moment a dance fantasy abruptly breaks out. Later, just as suddenly, there’s a stop-motion animation sequence. All for no apparent reason other than trying to be cute and clever. And the writing team gets very little right about the high school experience.

The students are (big surprise) a stereotypical batch of modern high school misfits — all played by actors well into their 20s. Instead of getting ready for college this cast looks like they should be wrapping-up grad school.

Wilde got husband Jason Sudeikis and pals Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte to chip-in on small, thankless parts. Their scenes are the only moments that may somewhat interest adults who mistakenly wander into a showing. Unfunny, odd and just plain foolish, this is a colossal mess.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)