“Booksmart” Pushes Teen Comedies and Lesbian Movies to Hilarious New Heights

When Janis Ian gives Cady Heron a tour of the cafeteria at her new high school, she describes basically every teen movie ever: You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst. The flavor may change slightly depending on how much of each ingredient you use, and the way those ingredients interact with each other, but the recipe for high school comedies remains largely the same. Enter Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, a film that honors and skewers the genre. It also does what Mean Girls wouldn’t: It makes a main girl gay.

Molly and Amy, played to absolute perfection by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, have been best friends forever, and unlike their peers who’ve been living it up with no regard for the future, they’ve stayed buckled down, locked up, planning for college and beyond. Molly’s going to Yale for undergrad on her path to becoming the youngest United States Supreme Court Justice. Amy’s going to Botswana to work on a reproductive health initiative and then she’s off to Columbia. They’re okay with not fitting in — it just means they’re better than everyone else (Molly meditates to a Maya Rudolph-voiced affirmation track every morning that details her various superiorities). Only, on the last day of school, Molly and Amy discover that most of their classmates are also headed off to prestigious colleges or six-figure coding jobs with Google. Molly decides their only recourse is to go out the night before graduation and do all the reprobate teenage things they were too buttoned-up to do for the last four years.

Amy’s lesbianism is a non-issue for her peers and only awkward with her parents when it gets specific, but that hasn’t really been a problem for her so far because — despite the fact that her mom (Lisa Kudrow) and dad (Will Forte) think she and Molly are dating — she doesn’t have any experience at all with girls. She’s got a crush on a skateboarder from afar, but that’s just longing slow-mo gazes and clumsy attempts at casual conversation. Molly and Amy’s self-seriousness extends to Amy’s sexuality. She came out, said out loud, “I’m a lesbian,” but with the exception of the super extra drama gays, she’s unclear if anyone else in her class is queer. Her Volvo and her jean jacket are covered with feminist bumper stickers and enamel pins, but maybe there are other girls out here also wanting to make out with girls but not make a big deal about it?

The fact that everything’s a big deal to Molly and Amy could get tiresome, and fast, but Feldstein, Dever, and Wilde bring such tender affection to bear on these teenage girls. They grew up alongside Sasha and Malia, idolizing Michelle Obama and and witnessing the double standard applied to her every action. They came of age in the world where Hillary Clinton lost a presidential election to Donald Trump. Racism and homophobia and transphobia and misogyny and school shootings and climate change are things they can’t ignore; those issues have shaped who they are. It’s so easy to see where they’re coming from.

On the other hand, Olivia Wilde doesn’t spare them. The parade of absurdity they march through on the trek to reach their pre-graduation night summit — the coolest, most debauched party in town — forces them to interact with everyone they’ve avoided their entire high school careers. The try-hard son of a millionaire, the melodramatic gay thespians, the beautiful mean girls, the jocks, the stoners, and even the outside-of-school personalities of their teachers and administrators. (Jessica Williams’ storyline is, sadly, the only one that doesn’t do her justice — but she’s very funny.) Each encounter becomes more and more ludicrous and by the time they reach their destination, they’ve already gotten way more than they bargained for when they snuck out under the guise of a sleepover. But the wackiness has only just begun!

What really makes Booksmart is Molly and Amy’s relationship. It feels lived in. Their chemistry, all their little inside jokes, their banter, the way they navigate each other’s insecurities and quirks and annoying habits, easily moving between sounding board to hype girl to loyal confidante to pal who coaxes you to watch lesbian porn on your phone. Wilde strikes a really brilliant balance between allowing the audience to laugh along with Molly and Amy’s shenanigans — to get inside their inside jokes — without laughing at their often overwrought do-gooder feminism. Every joke lands, even a running character gag that could have easily become grating in less skilled hands. The stakes become clear, the conflict is heartbreaking, and gosh is the resolution ever earned.

Booksmart is a brilliant teen flick and a savvy female-fronted comedy and an exceptional lesbian film — and it’s also just a really smart, really funny movie. It transcends every genre it’s a part of.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 840 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. Listen, Last Man Standing was and still is a lazy, insensitive, unfunny, shitfest excuse of a sitcom (rip ODAAT). But dammit I watched more of that show than I would like to admit because I was positive Kaitlyn Dever was playing her character as a closeted lesbian. So glad to see her play to her full gay potential.

  2. My wife and I saw this at a screener and we haven’t laughed so hard in years at a movie. Every minute was perfect, it reminded me of everything I loved about superbad but with way more relatable characters, cheers to Wilde for such an outstanding movie. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  3. Guys! I JUST watched this movie and after I went outside all hyped with the gay, leaning against the building, putting on chapstick like the gay with popcorn-salted lips I am, when a girl yelled out of a car, “You’re cute!” That’s NEVER HAPPENED. My first time getting “cat-called”- nope don’t like that… complemented. That’s better – my first time getting complemented on my cuteness by a girl was after watching like the first ever lesbian Rom-Com to be in a theater. OMG. I. Am. WoW. Wow. Like that’s all I have.

    WoooooooooOOOWWwwww!!!!

  4. Saw this today! It was so good. I laughed a lot to the point of almost needing to run to the bathroom, but not wanting to miss anything. Went with my spouse, my cousin, my mom and my brother. They all liked it and I heard them laughing at different points.

    Refreshing to see a gay character that isn’t trying to decide whether they are gay, deciding to come out, or being sent away/punished for being gay, they just are without question and they are able to have the same storyline as the other teen movie characters.

    Highly recommended!

  5. I saw this over the weekend, kind of impromptu, with a group of (mostly) straight people. All of us enjoyed it & my girlfriend and I both liked it more than we thought we would. We both laughed a lot a lot.
    Also, I barely remember Superbad (idk, I couldn’t relate), but a few people in my movie watching group mentioned how it reminded them of it. So I think that’s a good thing and I hope the movie does well!

  6. Update: finally saw this movie and thoroughly enjoyed it. Honestly what sold me that I had to see it was Tom and Lorenzo’s review which was absolutely gushing. Amy’s character was so good and the acting was stellar. More mainstream lesbians!!!

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