Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is the teen comedy we’ve all been waiting for

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS

When I first read the synopsis for Booksmart, it seemed like your usual teen comedy fodder, but that foolish assumption of mine couldn’t have been further from the delightful truth…

Minutes into the preview screening I’d bagged and it was already clear to me that Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is both a funny and adventurous one.

Wilde takes bold risks throughout that succeed in making this a true comedy masterpiece, embracing those last moments before life changes and you’re thrust into the real world, a world not even high-achievers Molly and Amy are prepared for.

Starring Beanie Feldstein (aka Jonah Hill’s little sister) as Molly and relative newcomer Kaitlyn Dever as Amy, the pair are on a mission to live it up before they graduate high school – because it turns out they spent so much time studying that they forgot to be teenagers.

As you can imagine, everything does not go to plan and their adventure takes them on a night of drinking, drugs, and a quest for first sexual encounters. 

The chemistry between the leading pair is immediately magnetic and their voices don’t ever feel forced, effortlessly succeeding in showing a tender portrait of female friendship on the verge of change.

So what makes Booksmart DIVA-worthy, I hear you ask? Well, it depicts the queer experience in the least exploitative and the most real way I’ve ever seen in a mainstream film. You heard me.

Amy is a lesbian, but she’s not anxious about her sexuality. She has been out for years before the film’s narrative begins, and her parents – played by Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte, nonetheless – are overbearingly supportive.

When Amy sees her crush, the world goes into slo-mo and the camera cuts close to show the object of her affections – Ryan. My heart was so happy when I realised Ryan was indeed another girl.

Seeing the queer gaze in a film is something I have longed for for years. It’s a moment of Booksmart that overflows with lustful yearning, and feels utterly and perfectly usual (and very, very teenage-shaped). 

Although Amy is out, she’s a classic baby gay who has yet to have her first kiss. Add to that the question of whether Ryan likes girls at all and we have ourselves a true lesbian crisis. One that I am here for. 

The emotions of exhilaration and thrill in Amy’s queer storyline were so strong I could feel the flush of excitement in my stomach as I watched her chase after a drunken kiss with Ryan. 

In short, Booksmart’s female-driven, celebratory narrative gives it a sensibility that feels all too familiar and the addition of such a diverse array of characters shows how film really is evolving in the ways in which we depict diverse identities.  

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Sure, there’s a lot more that needs to be done in terms of representation in mainstream film, but I can see Booksmart being a catalyst for change. Other high school comedies feel safe when compared with Wilde’s bold first.

It fits in well with Eighth Grade and Ladybird, which both point towards a new direction for the coming-of-age film, but Booksmart is more queer and more rich in diversity and female-centredness than anything in recent years. 

It’s the film we all needed when we were 15 and I cannot recommend it enough. 

Booksmart hits UK cinemas on Monday 27 May 2019. Want more? Catch our interview with stars Beanie and Kaitlyn in the July 2019 issue of DIVA coming soon…

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