I’m sure the people who made “Booksmart” don’t want it to be shorthanded into “‘Superbad’ for girls,” but I’m equally sure that their hopes are in vain. If you don’t want to be compared to “Superbad,” don’t have the same plot and tone as “Superbad.” Comparisons aside, though, “Booksmart” is a funny and empathetic comedy in which two overachieving high school seniors — high-strung Type A class president Molly (Beanie Feldstein, sister of “Superbad” co-star Jonah Hill) and quiet lesbian virgin Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) — decide the night before graduation to finally cut loose and go to a party (or “experience a seminal anecdotal event,” as Molly puts it). They’ve eschewed such behavior for four years so they could make excellent grades and get into Ivy League colleges, only to discover that many of their classmates screwed around for four years and got into the same schools. The girls need to make up for lost time.
They both have crushes who will be at the cool kids’ party. Molly has the hots for Nick (Mason Gooding), her slacker vice-president, athlete, and all-around stud muffin; Amy is after Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), a skater girl. But not knowing the party’s location, it becomes a quest that takes them to two other parties first: rich douche Jared’s (Skyler Gisondo) houseboat gala, and a murder mystery hosted by the drama dorks (played fabulously by Noah Galvin and Austin Crute). Much foul-mouthed hilarity ensues, with maybe a dozen side characters (including those already mentioned) emerging first as comic foils but eventually becoming fully formed human beings (except the mystical, omnipresent Gigi, played by Billie Lourd, who remains unknowable but hilarious).
That, ultimately, is the point of the movie, written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman and directed by actress Olivia Wilde. Molly, well-known at school but not exactly popular, resents and looks down on her classmates, but comes to realize over the course of the night that they all have their own stories. The rich jerk isn’t just a rich jerk, and maybe isn’t even that much of a jerk, you know? And since the movie was made 1) in 2019 and 2) by women, even the dudes and bros are woke when it comes to gender issues, reducing the sleaziness you often see in R-rated teen comedies. Jared, the rich kid, whose vanity license plate reads FUKBOI, would have been a date-rapist in a ’90s comedy; here he’s up front about not doing anything without consent. His politeness gets laughs because it feels incongruous, but I suspect in 10 years it will seem normal.
Feldstein and Dever’s chemistry as best friends is endlessly delightful, their dynamic rooted in reality more than in stereotypes. Instead of an odd couple formula — e.g., one’s careful, one’s reckless; one’s introverted, one’s extroverted — they’re both idiosyncratic and uncertain in different but complementary ways. I love that bossy Molly is neither a pariah nor a queen but somewhere in the middle, with unlimited power in certain social circles and none whatsoever in others. Amy is far from a stereotypical lesbian, and her sexuality is such a non-issue (she’s been out for two years) that you almost overlook how bold it is that the film’s one requited romance involves people of the same gender. Side plots with Jason Sudeikis as the moonlighting principal and Jessica Williams as a cool teacher are amusing but have no payoff, and a third-act spat between Amy and Molly seems to come out of nowhere before being summarily resolved, but Feldstein and Dever’s central performances are full of lovable energy.
B+ (1 hr., 42 min.; )