God damn it, people! You need to go see Booksmart! It’s no surprise that this Memorial Day Weekend box office was dominated by Aladdin, which also opened this weekend; the same goes for the top four being rounded out by smash hits John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (in its second weekend), Avengers: Endgame (still on track to be the biggest box office success in history — in unadjusted dollars), and Pokémon Detective Pikachu (the first-ever live-action movie based on the most profitable franchise ever). Still, Detective Pikachu is in its third week, and honestly, Booksmart deserves to be at least competitive as a top-3 placeholder.
Ten years ago, it very well might have been. Now, it barely squeaks into sixth place, taking in a paltry $8.7 million. Less than a million tickets have been sold to see this movie, and it’s getting lamented in headlines as being crushed by the competition. And why? Because we live in a world now where going out to the movie theatre is reserved, by most, for spectacle. Aladdin is all spectacle. So are those other movies mentioned. Booksmart, by contrast, is about laughs, and fun, and character, and heart. Just without special effects. Who wants that!
Well, I do. And you should too! Scrolling through Twitter, excuses can be found regarding how going to the movies is just too expensive anymore. You know what? Barely more than twenty bucks for an AMC monthly subscription that allows for seeing up to three movies a week is not that expensive. Okay, yeah, a movie outing for a family of four gets pricey. This is an R rated comedy that is not intended for those audiences.
But, the argument goes, the audience this movie does have is far more prone to watch this movie later on a streaming service, at a fraction of the cost, in the comfort of their own home. It’s entirely possible I’m just being a grouchy old geezer about this. I love the movie-going experience. Even if I don’t know anyone else in the theatre, I love the communal aspect of it, getting a sense of how much everyone else is enjoying it compared to me. And I can tell you this much: Booksmart gets a lot of laughs.
It’s never cheap laughs, either, never low-hanging fruit. This is smart comedy, from a uniquely joyous script that offers a truly diverse array of characters who are to a person well-rounded, a rare case of a movie about teenagers that highlights the best of them as they exist in 2019, rather than the worst of them. These are kids who can make a mess of things — sure, they make mistakes. But in this movie, their peers are generally kind, and quick to forgive, or at least move on and offer second chances.
Now, to be fair, the gags and punchlines aren’t completely consistent in how well they land. I kind of wanted the sequence in which Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlin Dever) get high and hallucinate themselves as Barbie dolls to be funnier than it really was. But, two key things make up for such semi-lulls in the narrative. Firstly, the laughs otherwise come far more steadily than they do in 90% of the other comedies that get released in theatres. This is a comedy that will make you laugh out loud. Second, Molly and Amy are supremely endearing as these over-achieving super dorks, who suddenly realize the night before graduation that they wasted time focusing only on school work and never having any real fun.
And so, Booksmart is the story of their pursuit of such fun, spending about half the movie in search of one particular kid’s party, and making pit stops at two other poor excuses for parties along the way. Once they get to the destination party, it becomes about how they figure out how to have a good time there. Unlike in other movies, where the antagonists would be other kids who are bullies, the conflict in the end becomes how they antagonize each other — and, of course (spoiler alert!), reconcile.
This movie has a lot in common with last year’s 🐓 Blockers, the key difference being that this one relies less on gross-out humor, and also somehow that one made $20 million its opening weekend. So, it’s not like anyone can blame this one’s underperformance on the fact that it’s got female leads. Also, in semi-contrast to 🐓 Blockers’s lesbian supporting character, in this movie one of the two leads is gay, and that fact is completely incidental — her pursuit of a love (or lust) interest played no differently than it would be if this were about two guy high school seniors who were best friends. I would argue that Booksmart handles these themes even better.
There is just so much I like about this movie, not least of which is that the story is about friendship, between one girl who is straight and one who is gay, and there is no sexual tension between them; their relationship is entirely platonic. I can’t think of any other movie I’ve seen, at least not in recent years, that was about such a relationship. Instead of playing up any other kind of “other-ness,” director Olivia Wilde plays up their lovable dorkiness. I even hesitate to say “quirkiness.” Amy and Molly are dorks.
And the supporting cast is wonderful too, from the spacey girl (played by Billie Lourd) whose running gag is that she keeps popping up inexplicably every place Amy and Molly find themselves; to the melodramatic gay guys (Austin Crute and Noah Galvin, both of them crushing it) whose party is all drama performance; to the eccentric but lovable rich kid (Santa Clarita Diet’s Skyler Gisondo), among plenty of others. There are even some comfortably familiar faces among the adults in the cast, including Lisa Kudrow and a nearly unrecognizable Will Forte as Amy’s parents; and Jason Sudeikis as Principal Brown.
In any case, the journey of Booksmart is very much its own thing, very much of its time, and it’s mostly a blast, as well as occasionally touching. It’s a journey worth taking, and not enough people are hopping on its train. Maybe it’s a victim of its release date, who knows? Sometimes a smaller movie just gets eaten alive by too much razzle-dazzle in its competition. My hope is that this movie proves resilient, and finds its way to wider audiences one way or another. It’s just as worthy as pretty much anything playing out there right now.