Thursday 20 June 2019

Rites-of-passage comedy so forthright yet tender

Film Review: Booksmart (15)

School's out for the summer but life lessons about sisterly solidarity and abusing the good nature of a teddy bear never end in the raucous rites-of-passage comedy Booksmart.

Actress Olivia Wilde identifies herself as a high achiever with a riotous feature film directorial debut, strutting confidently down the same corridors of beautifully articulated teen angst as Clueless and Mean Girls.

A sorority of four female scriptwriters cram in a dizzying array of pithy and potty-mouthed one-liners between some deeply touching moments of self-reflection and realisation.

The heartfelt hilarity is delivered with genuine warmth and grin-inducing sincerity by the dream team double-act of Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein.

They have us rooting for their sassy, self-aware misfits from the moment they prepare for another day at school with impromptu body-popping on the side of the road.

Belly laughs are bountiful, trading in pop culture references and near-the-knuckle humour that never threatens to become crude or mean-spirited.

These girls are sugar and spice and all things naughty but nice.

Potentially thorny issues of fat-shaming, sexual experimentation and peer pressure are cheerfully navigated or sidestepped to encourage characters to wear individuality and naivete on their sleeves, next to their hearts.

Amy (Dever) and best friend Molly (Feldstein) have studiously forsaken fornication and partying in order to achieve their academic dreams.

Textbooks have been the girls' steadfast bedtime companions and as graduation looms, Amy is destined for Columbia while Molly has been accepted into Yale.

The gal pals despair at the tomfoolery of classmates so they are gob-smacked to learn that lazy peers have also secured places at coveted Ivy League institutions.

'This isn't possible,' rages Molly. 'You guys don't care about school.'.

It's a bitter pill to swallow: Amy and Molly have needlessly missed out on extra-curricular lessons in drunken bonding. The over-achievers resolve to make amends on the night before Molly delivers her valedictorian speech.

'We are A+ people and we are going to an A+ party.' she defiantly announces.

The friends hatch a hare-brained scheme to gatecrash a party thrown by cool kid Nick (Mason Gooding) in the hope that Amy can finally approach her crush: skateboarding tomboy Ryan (Victoria Ruesga).

This haphazard odyssey puts Amy and Molly on a collision course with narcotics, crime, an explosion of bodily fluids and a shocking discovery about their high school principal (Jason Sudeikis).

Booksmart is an unapologetically forthright and tender valentine to the glorious final hours of carefree abandon before adulthood comes a-knocking.

Dever and Molly are utterly adorable and possess fizzing screen chemistry, and co-stars are memorable for the right reasons, sometimes in fleeting roles that gently subvert stereotypes.

It's going to take something very special to usurp Wilde's boisterous romp from remaining top of the class of comedies in 2019.

Rating: 9/10

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