How is smart is Booksmart? Is it clever enough to know that the problem with modern American film comedy is that it’s overwrought, too heightened and too glib for its own good? We’re talking about a sketch comedy universe in which every character, no matter what their place in the story, is in on the joke and over acts accordingly.
Booksmart has a character that embodies this absolutely. Jared, dismissed by the other kids, on account of in being insufferable try hard, represents the trend. Later in the movie, Molly, one of the films likeable leads, admonishes Jared and his tendency to seek attention and buy affection. The movie equivalent of buying affection is referencing the crud the audience already knows; self-reflective nods to popular culture.
Molly sanctioning Jared is a shrewd piece of film criticism on the big screen. She’s telling him, as we told them many times, to reign it in, to ground ones’ self, keep it real. Only by so doing can other people, the audience in this example, relate to the individual (and by extension the movie). Real emotion and real laughs are grounded in the real world. The characters can be zany, the situations absurd, but the film must have the impress of real-life.
When Booksmart remembers this, as it begins to toward the end of the second act, when it’s milked the opportunities presented by the movies absurdist scenarios dry, it becomes a film with real heart. Prior to this, it’s just very good – hyperactive and sketch-like to be sure, but amusing for all that.
In the absence of out and out jokes, because this is still a movie in thrall to the orthodoxy that everyone must be on all the time, there’s a pleasing optimism. Booksmart doesn’t take the view that there are good kids and bad kids, rather it suggests that the problem with high schoolers is that they don’t understand one another, failed to communicate, so fail to see that they have far more in common than stratifying labels like jock and nerd suggest.
Amy and Molly learn that everyone’s special, and everyone’s interesting, in their unique way, and that lack of cynicism, coupled with the warm and heartfelt friendship at the core of the story, makes this a film many will be able to relate to; a firm teen favourite of the future, if it’s fortunate enough to enjoy a long and fruitful afterlife in the cloud.