Fun High School Nostalgia
Booksmart is self aware of its use of standard teen drama high school film devices. Lifelong best friends who have lives planned but as the specter of college creeps in, there is a divide. They won’t be able to go to the same university, or one of them has chosen to go where the other hasn’t, because they changed. Whatever it is, at the end of high school, nothing will ever be the same again. These films follow a formula, they have a pretty specific target audience and usually are not very good. Booksmart is aware of these high school drama tropes, to an extent makes fun of them, but largely improves on them.
Although the plot of Booksmart is far from original, seeing two “nerdy” girls trying to take a last ditch effort to “experience” high school, (you know, drinking, partying, sex) the film subverts some of these expectations. The characters in this film are pretty believable. There aren’t any over-the-top evil high school classmates, and even the ones who the protagonists’ aren’t fond of, end up having a favorable story arc. There isn’t an unrealistic representation of bullying that has little to do with what happens in real life. That alone is an improvement on the average high school film. Most characters in this film are actually pretty decent. Even the side characters seem to have fully fledged stories. This is a welcome change, as in most high school films, only the lead characters change, but largely end up reverting to their old ways at the end of the film.
What I’m getting at, is that the characters are the best part of this film. The high school quarterback jock character isn’t randomly a genius after being represented as educationally challenged for the entire film, and most stereotypes established for years are subverted as much as they are used. Everyone seems real and authentic. The dialogue is clever and there is good comedy, even if I’m not really this films targeted audience.
The adventure that the film’s protagonists go on in order to “experience high school” is reminiscent of films like Superbad and the film borrows from several similar films. Despite that, it manages to build fairly strong emotional stakes and a dramatic climax. As each character reaches a high, getting close to exactly what they desire, it all comes crumbling down to the lowest of lows. It’s good storytelling and the film shows this scene in a very clever way.
Overall, I’m actually pretty fond of this movie. It ends with a really average high school graduation scene, and the film is a bit too heavy handed with its feminist messaging. I don’t disagree, I just think it could have been achieved in a much more subtle and natural way. Would I watch this again? Yes, I’d pick it over most other high school films. Should you watch it? Yeah, especially if you’re a young woman, you may see yourself in some of these characters.