MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
I don’t expect popular teen comedies to reflect the reality of everyday life, especially when they are aiming for that “sweet spot” of a mildly raunchy R-rated movie that manages to still have something to say. Films that managed to pull off this feat in the past have included Dazed and Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Superbad and American Pie. And it’s great to see films that feature intelligent teens struggling to take a stand in the midst of a youth culture that sometimes disregards this subgroup (Real Genius, Lady Bird, The Breakfast Club, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). In comparison, Booksmart barely makes a passing grade.
It is ostensibly the story of two BFFs – Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) – who are not only livelong friends but mutually intentional about achieving honors in high school so that they can get into the best colleges. Molly is accepted into Yale and Amy will be going to Columbia after a brief sojourn doing volunteer work overseas. Because there is some wacky school honor code about not sharing with classmates your school of choice, it takes some time before Molly and Amy discover that there are other students also going to top tier schools who have spent their high school years drinking, partying and having sex. (Even the slacker dude is beginning an internship with Google.)
That’s it! Molly tells Amy that they will make up for lost time. They are going to party like it’s 2019! (It’s too late for 1999.) They will also boldly cross lines to infiltrate the subgroups that make up their high school in a wild night that moves from party to party. There will be misunderstandings and tears but it will all work out in the end.
But in what world does Booksmart take place? In an early scene we see Molly walking down the hall and being bumped and pushed by the other students. No one seems to like her, but she is identified as the senior class president! How did she get elected? She goes into the principal’s office to talk business and finds him totally disinterested in her agenda. The kids go wild in the hallways and throw trash everywhere, accompanied by the throwing of water-filled condom balloons. No repercussions here – just regular end of the year fun, I guess.
Every adult is either inane or absent, so it’s a world of the young. While there is some intentional diversity in the class (including racial and sexual identity), all of the students we see in the film enjoy wealth and privilege (Amy and Molly’s night of fun includes a party on a private yacht, participation in the Drama Club’s Murder Mystery game in a McMansion, and frolicking in a ginormous backyard swimming pool).
The two leads are well cast and there are some good side characters that add life to the film. But by the time the movie arrives at its closing graduation scene (with one of the worst valedictorian speeches ever), I was startled to find myself with tears rolling down my cheeks. Two hours wasted again! The film’s title tried to warn me. Books are smarter!
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
One halo: Good chemistry between the two leads is the only passing grade on this film’s report card.
Four pitchforks: Strong language throughout; crude sex talk; much recreational drug and alcohol use; an uncomfortable sex scene; irresponsible behavior from all age groups.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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