BOOKSMART (2019) is a coming of age story with heart and strong comedic performances

Booksmart is the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde and follows two best friends who use their last day of high school to make up for all of the partying they missed while focusing solely on their studies.

The film is headlined by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein and makes for a charming coming of age story with heart, emotion, comedy, and two strong lead performances.

When it comes to a good coming of age film, it all hinges on whether the story can deliver something original, emotional, and lightly comedic without neglecting any of those areas. Booksmart manages to hit all three of those points but doesn’t necessarily excel at any of them. The story itself is good, there’s a natural three-act progression to it and it never gets to the point of dragging. It’s a relatively short movie and a lot is covered, the pacing really helps to keep things moving along. The last 15-20 minutes or so move a little too fast and make the ending feel a little rushed, but aside from that it’s pretty smooth sailing.

When it comes to originality, the story definitely follows a formula of sorts. But it has enough surprises and takes characters in interesting directions to where it’s unique enough to not feel like a rehashed coming of age story.

Booksmart manages to capture a good balance of emotion and humour and knows when to focus on each… most of the time. As far as the emotional content goes, it hits every time. The introduction to these characters is quick and to the point, and they’re so loveable it’s very easy to get behind them from the opening few minutes. Due a strong connection being formed early on, this helps in later moments to give weight to some of the more emotionally heartwarming and heart-wrenching scenes. The themes and messages the film conveys are heard loud and clear without being forced into the story and all that works.

The humour is where it could have been a little stronger. There are some good well-timed jokes here and there, mostly delivered by Dever and Feldstein, but there’s also many that miss the mark. Oddly enough, it’s the one off jokes that have a better success rate in here and the running jokes that don’t hit as hard. There aren’t any long dry spells where none of the jokes hit, but one in every three doesn’t get the intended reaction. Billie Lourd has a supporting role in the film and is exclusively used as a recurring joke… a recurring joke that doesn’t work. Her character is a little too far on the extreme and silly side of things and stands out, not in a good way.

The writing of the dialogue is the weakest part of the film. A lot of lines are a little wonky, contrived, and it’s easy to tell they’re coming before they hit. I don’t have much wrong with the delivery, some of the conversations just don’t feel natural and organic like two real people talking. This isn’t the case all the time, but it is a somewhat recurring issue.

Some of the dialogue may not be great, but the delivery and personalities behind the dialogue make it easy to brush over. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are a fantastic duo and carry this entire film on their shoulders. The chemistry between them, the back and forth banter, the emotional conflict, it all works and there’s not a bad scene where these two are on screen together. They capture the fun, outgoing, slightly awkward, but also charming personalities of these two girls really well. They’re the glue that binds this whole film together.

As for the supporting characters and performances, no one really stands out as having a number of good memorable scenes. Skyler Gisondo has a number of scenes throughout the film but none of them really land. I couldn’t get into his character and the more he showed up the more I wish he didn’t. That’s nothing to do with his performance, I just didn’t respond to the character. Also don’t get too excited about the presence of high profile actors Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, and Lisa Kudrow as they each have one or two short scenes. They’re good scenes but they all only pop in for a brief moment.

In the end, Booksmart is a good coming of age film with strong lead performances, a decent story, plenty of heart, and some good humour. With a one hour and 42 minute runtime, it’s a very easy watch where the jokes that fall flat and some of the wonky dialogue won’t affect the fun to be had on this journey.

6.5/10

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