Beanie Feldstein (left) and Kaitlyn Dever play straight-A students who decide to make up for lost partying time in “Booksmart.” (Annapurna Pictures)

Beanie Feldstein (left) and Kaitlyn Dever play straight-A students who decide to make up for lost partying time in “Booksmart.” (Annapurna Pictures)

‘Booksmart’ is a new classic of the high-school movie genre

With two engaging lead performances, this joins films like “Dazed and Confused” in the pantheon.

The Great American High School Movie is always the same. And that is actually just fine.

The music and the wardrobe change, and gender equality has evolved over the years. But there’s something reassuring about the fact that “Booksmart” is a familiar collection of jokes and anxieties and regrets, with long party scenes that take place across — of course — the last night of senior year.

Freshened up with snappy rhythm and two engaging lead performances, the formula still works like a charm. The Class of 2019 is lucky to have this as their valedictory statement.

On the final day of school, two straight-A high-achievers realize their error: They’ve worked so hard at excelling at academics, they never got around to partying. That will change tonight.

BFFs Molly (Beanie Feldstein, from “Ladybird”) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, “Detroit”) are the party-seekers, and their night-long attempt to have fun becomes a very entertaining, occasionally surreal odyssey. This includes a puppet sequence that should not be spoiled here.

Molly, the school valedictorian, is a bossypants who won’t admit she has a crush on a boy she knows is wrong for her. The reserved Amy likes a female classmate, but isn’t sure the girl is gay, which is how she ends up asking, “Would you be scared to go to Uganda?” as a sounding-out line.

The supporting cast has a few familiar faces: Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s unfailingly supportive parents, ex-“Daily Show” regular Jessica Williams as a simpatico teacher and Jason Sudeikis as the school principal. But mostly it’s populated by up-and-coming actors — even if, per the usual tradition for high school movies, a lot of these actors look suspiciously old to be playing teens.

Standouts include Skylar Gisondo and Billie Lourd (that’s Carrie Fisher’s daughter) as particularly eccentric classmates, Molly Gordon and Diana Silvers as weirdly hostile members of the In Crowd and Mason Gooding as the school’s hunky dunce.

“Booksmart” is the directing debut of the actress Olivia Wilde, who displays a deft touch with comic timing. A few ambitious ideas pay off, like a big revelation that comes while Amy is submerged in a swimming pool, or a long-take showdown that finally cracks the bond between Molly and Amy.

There’s also a nutty one-off scene involving a pizza-delivery man (Mike O’Brien) that gets a glorious punchline much later in the film. Wilde keeps the film on track but shrewdly makes room for these weird little syncopated diversions.

The movie’s R-rated enough to be credible as a depiction of the way real people talk, but not too R-rated, if you know what I mean — there’s no raunch for its own sake, unlike the Seth Rogen school of modern comedy. The film’s final line, an exuberant F-bomb, is one of the sweetest moments of the movie year.

Is “Booksmart” substantially different from classics like “Dazed and Confused” and “Clueless”? Nope. Will it become a classic of that genre anyway? You better effing believe it.

“Booksmart” (4 stars)

A new classic of the high-school genre, this comedy has two engaging lead performances and a snappy comic rhythm. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever play academic high-achievers who realize they need to attend one party before senior year is over; chaos ensues. Director Olivia Wilde, who displays a deft touch with the quick-moving material.

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Opening Friday: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

Talk to us

More in Life

R.J. Whitlow, co-owner of 5 Rights Brewery, has recently expanded to the neighboring shop, formerly Carr's Hardware. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
County craft breweries’ past lives: hardware store, jail

Most breweries in Snohomish County operate in spaces that formerly housed something far different — from boat builders to banks.

Caption: Stay-at-home parents work up to 126 hours a week. Their labor is valuable even without a paycheck.
A mother’s time is not ‘free’ — and they put in 126-hour workweeks

If you were to pay a stay-at-home mom or dad for their time, it would cost nearly $200,000 a year.

CloZee performs during the second day of Summer Meltdown on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Darrington, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The psychedelic fest Summer Meltdown is back — and in Monroe

The music and camping event is on for July 28-31, with a new venue along the Skykomish River.

How to cultivate inner peace in the era of COVID, insurrection

Now more than ever, it’s important that we develop and practice relaxation and mindfulness skills that calm our minds and bodies.

Budapest’s House of Terror.
Cold War memories of decadent Western pleasures in Budapest

It’s clear that the younger generation of Eastern Europeans has no memory of the communist era.

Gardening at spring. Planting tree in garden. Senior man watering planted fruit tree at his backyard
Bare root trees and roses have arrived for spring planting

They’re only available from January through March, so shop early for the tree or rose you want.

Help! My Expedia tour credit is about to expire

Kent York cancels his tour package in Norway that he booked through Expedia after the pandemic outbreak. But the hotel won’t offer a refund or extend his credit. Is he about to lose $1,875?

Veteran Keith F. Reyes, 64, gets his monthly pedicure at Nail Flare on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No more gnarly feet: This ‘Wounded Warrior’ gets pedicures

Keith Reyes, 64, visits a Stanwood nail salon for “foot treatments” that help soothe blast injuries.

Photo Caption: A coal scuttle wasn't always used for coal; it could hold logs or collect ashes. This one from about 1900 sold for $125 at DuMouchelles in Detroit.
(c) 2022 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.
Coal scuttles of days long gone by now used for fire logs

This circa 1900 coal scuttle is made of oak with brass trim, and sold for $125 at auction.

Most Read