Exit Poll: “Booksmart” is More Than Just Your Woke “Superbad”

Courtesy Annapurna Pictures.

Exit Poll is a series exploring the good, bad, and outright deranged films and events our writers and editors are attending. This week: Ethan Sapienza heads to a screening of Olivia Wilde’s new comedy Booksmart, in theaters May 24, which tracks the shenanigans that ensue when two high-achieving best friends decide to put down their books before high school graduation.

Near the tail end of the Bush administration, we got Superbad, an instant classic of a high school party movie, where the sexual misadventures of outcast friends Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) were a wonderful distraction for a nation tired of an idiot president. Twelve years later, amidst a vastly different political climate with a different idiot president at its helm, we have Booksmart, in which graduating high school seniors Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) spend a night trying to get to The Big Party. Sound familiar? Another layer to the déjà vu labyrinth: Feldstein is Hill’s younger sister. But Booksmart is no Superbad rehash. Feldstein’s character is someone Hill’s Seth would’ve rolled his eyes at: the overachieving class president, whose meditative recordings literally tell her she’s better than the rest of those motherfuckers. Amy likely wouldn’t have been featured in 2007 dude comedies either, as an openly gay, socially anxious teen with a fondness for Ken Burns. Seeing these characters onscreen professing “yas kween” affirmations for one another and figuring out the complex awkwardness of high school crushes is not just long overdue, but a damn joy to watch. Much can—and should—be said of Dever and Feldstein’s chemistry, as their bond gives the film its most amusing moments, one being a discussion about just how one shows affection to her stuffed animals. Objects of wokedom adorn the film, from nods to Susan B. Anthony to Malala Yousafzai to the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity. These references don’t serve as mere window dressing or punchlines, but instead give Booksmart a freshness and timeliness that raunchy teen flicks haven’t displayed in quite some time. The film is directed by actress Olivia Wilde in her first go behind the camera, and she imbues the movie with a delightfully shocking amount of style for a buddy comedy. Numerous extended single takes, musical flourishes, claymation, and a dreamlike dance sequence are just a few moments of creativity that shine through the film. While the third act does dip into some of the more contrived aspects of high school movies—shocker, those two characters do end up hooking up—that doesn’t spoil much of the fun. Booksmart doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it certainly gives it some much-needed new perspective. Hopefully, we get more Mollys and Amys in our high school cineverse. They can teach the Seths and Evans a thing or two.