Booksmart’s Ode to the Modern Teen

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By Refiloe Mokgele

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 6 of VARSITY News.


What better way to catalyze the coming-of-age of teen duo, Molly and Amy, than in a high school bathroom. This is where Molly (Beanie Feldstein), after overhearing a mean conversation about her, comes to discover that her entire identity just might be a sham. Molly is valedictorian, student body president and a soon to be Yale student so you may have gathered that she is very smart. So is her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) who, following some community service in Botswana, will also be attending an Ivy League university after high school. The two have dedicated their high school careers to studying, following the rules, building their CVs and being general overachievers while their peers have been much less serious about their futures.


Cue existential crisis – because the school bathroom is where Molly is proven wrong. What one would usually peg as an ultimate nerd vs cool kid clap back, where Molly compares her illustrious future to their uncertainty, turns into a revelation about the fact that most of her classmates are alsogoing to top universities. The realisation that Molly and Amy could have worked less and played more sparks their mission to cram enough partying into their last night before graduation to make up for the wasted years.


Simple enough – a high school party movie packed with ridiculous situations, social stereotypes and sexual awkwardness. Booksmart manages to keep these tropes intact but instead of playing into them, they are spun and adapted for 2019.



As demonstrated in the bathroom scene, myths about social categories are debunked. The skaters and ‘slackers’ are just as smart as the teachers’ pets, there is a comfortability around queerness, and Amy’s narrative is treated with the same energy as any other heterosexual teenage foray. All the raunchy humour is presented from a fresh and quietly revolutionary feminist perspective, resulting in film that attempts not to reinvent the wheel but rather tweak it to fit the context of today.


Booksmartdoesn’t make fun of this generation’s characteristic ‘wokeness’. The film roots for them- becoming what director, Olivia Wilde, hopes will be a generational anthem in the same empowering way The Breakfast Cluband Ferris Bueller’s Day Offwere for teens of the 1980s. The youth in those films were independent. They subverted the rules set by grown-ups. As she comments on the young generation of today, “They’re like- ‘You’ve put us in af@*%d-up political situation, the earth is dying, there are maniacs in power, you’ve created this binary way of thinking about gender and sexuality, which we don’t accept. We’d actually like to shift this paradigm – you’re done!’”


Wilde manages to do this while still taking us on raucous ride filled with the same kind of Superbad-adjacent, adolescent debauchery we have come to love over the years. It all culminates in this hilarious teen movie for the modern age, deserving nothing less than an A+.



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