Booksmart (2019)

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Food: I have been wanting to try Koreatown’s Pocha 32 for a long time, but each time I try to go – which is honestly rare – it is during a drunken escapade in midtown and it is always way too late to get in without a two hour wait. But, alas, I went this past week and got to delight in all that this place has to offer. First, the atmosphere is cool and secret – surrounded in fishnet wallpaper with small bottle caps hanging from the ceiling and a ton of unpretentious tables, pre-set with a simple plate of vegetables. Being one story up, it overlooks the street and brings in a lot of natural light. We ordered the famous watermelon soju which is delivered in an actual watermelon that rests on a chair next to table and must be spooned into your cups. It barely tasted like alcohol – very fresh and very drinkable. My friend got a giant dish of webbed octopus and pork belly which is served on a lifted hot plate. I enjoyed a tasty Bibimbop. The food was great, decent service and if you go earlier, a laid back environment. Cash only. Oh, also I saw Laird from Girls there, so yeah, I recommend.

Film:┬áThere is something uniquely charming about Booksmart– a new take on the coming of age story that takes place right before graduation. Often, it focuses on a set of characters determined to lose their virginity before college. And often, it centers around the male experience here – falling to female objectification to fulfill the plot assumptions and slapstick comedy. This has, honestly, worked in the past, but with a new generation, there is a refreshing push for something more interesting.

Writers and Harvard graduates, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, created this script around a decade ago and it has just been passed around Hollywood ever since, never making its way to the screen until now, when Olivia Wilde decided to take it on for her directorial debut. The original script, written in 2009, was about what happens when “two overachieving high school seniors realize the only thing they haven’t accomplished is having boyfriends, and each resolves to find one by prom.” After it had been on the Hollywood Black List for several years (list of un-produced scripts), Susanna Fogel (director of “The Spy Who Dumped me”) came across it and made some adjustments: One of the main characters is gay, and instead of trying to get boyfriends, they muster up the bravery to pursue their crushes at an after party. Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures bought the script and teamed it with Jessica Elbaum of Gloria Sanchez Productions (female focused production house of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions). Olivia Wilde was called up for the project – as she had been working on shorts and music videos with a producer/directorial role – and right away pitched herself for the directing job. With the help of the final screenwriter, Katie Silberman (writer “Set It Up”) and updated the story since the 2014 take because already so much had been changing for young women – and it needed to resonate with these audiences. Ultimately, the modernized script accomplishes the depth and diverse elements that make it what it is today making it worth the wait.

Two young girls, Molly (Beanie Feldstein, “Lady Bird”) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, “Short Term 12”) have spent all of their high school experience maintaining their status as studious perfectionists. They know more than their boneheaded peers! They’ve got it all figured out, have gotten into their dream schools and when they are ruling the world one day, it will be a big F-U to anyone who fooled around in high school! However, Molly, while correcting the grammar in one of the bathroom stalls, overhears some students talking about her unlikable personality. When she confronts them, she discovers the even more earth shattering news that they all got into the same top tier colleges as her.

This film is not a sexually driven slap stick comedy. It is about that fundamental moment in life when you start to realize how little you actually know about the world. Maybe being so one track minded, in lieu of friendships and experiences was not the way to go. Maybe they did miss out. Maybe they had misjudged everyone.

Molly and Amy, in an attempt to reconcile their previous lack of involvement, decide to seek out a wild night of partying the night before graduation and embark on a series of adventures along the way – which may or may not include a scene involving stop motion Barbie dolls. My favorite aspect of this film is actually not the comedic moments, but the quieter pieces. Amy swimming through the water in search of her crush is so mesmerizing, and there are a lot of similar cinematic choices that give the audience this resounding emotion without having to use dialogue at all. I liken this to Wilde’s experience directing music videos.

The story unfolds, as Molly and Amy’s prejudices and stereotypes begin to unravel, and as always there is more to people than meets the eye. Not to mention, this film took the approach to show that the “cool kids” are not always mean. The gay kids are not always outcast. People are inclusive and there is diversity within the cast, a trend that more teenage films are embracing, and it is refreshing to see on-screen.

As Wilde’s first film – and both lead actresses first starring roles – “Booksmart” really is a crowning achievement. I feel excited and encouraged that this is the type of content that is being shown to highschoolers. Our culture has long needed more stories about teenage girls putting their friendship and their goals at the center, instead of the boys in their lives. Hat’s off – or should I say “Graduation caps off” to this one!

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