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The movie where two friends see out their last days of high school with a party or some other event or task designed to right their social flaws of the last few years continues to be an entertaining one as times in high school change. And my wife and I had heard good things about Olivia Wilde's directing debut Booksmart and finally got the chance to check it out recently.
The actress makes her feature debut with a script written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman. The film focuses on best friends who are seniors in high school. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, Short Term 12) has been out for a little while, and in the meantime Molly (Beanie Feldstein, Lady Bird) is preparing them both for Yale. People at school tend to think of Amy and Molly as a little bit arrogant and they play that part accordingly because well, they're going to Yale! But they experience a clarifying moment, and want to have as much fun as possible before graduating and leaving, and cram it into a memorable night.
It may be oversimplifying things, but I think that Booksmart is a bit of an emotional successor to Superbad. Superbad, while being a funny story about two friends who are finishing up high school, know that they will not be seeing each other for some time, maybe ever, at the end of it. And there is a subtle tone of emotional reconciliation with it as they go through the night, looking for vodka with gold flakes in it, or hiding liquor in booze. It's funny to be sure, but it's also modest and sweet in parts, and that's what I've found come through for me through the years.
And I get that same feeling with Booksmart. The dynamics of the friends or of high school in general, or the characters in and around it may have changed, but the friendship is there, told in a voice that makes it their own, which Wilde does to great extent. She gives the cast ample time and effort to make characters their own and in the opening scenes, people like Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo do this. Gisondo is currently in HBO's The Righteous Gemstones, and while he doesn't have a lot to do at the moment, the introduction of Jared into the film early on is enough to bring you in, if the chemistry between Dever and Feldstein hadn't already done so. The humor starts early and often, with the ensemble carving out their spaces quickly. Veteran comic actors like SNL alums Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte appear in cameos along with Lisa Kudrow, and they are more welcome appearances, but aren't necessary to the overall film because the kids got this, and never lost control of it when the opening credits start.
Dever and Feldstein are funny to be sure but they are also poignant and sweet, with the former trying to figure out her life around some of these people, and occasionally bumping heads with the latter. Feldstein has a more cerebral Rebel Wilson vibe around her, more daring and precise, not relying on physical comedy for comedy's sake. Both are perfect for their characters, and they are part of a group that puts in a lot of effort to make these characters impactful and it works. Booksmart proves to be funny in many ways that past films have done, and is a treat to experience.The Blu-ray
The Blu-ray presentation from Fox is pretty darned good; the daytime scenes look good and the nighttime ones contain impressive and deep black levels that don't waver and present superb contrast. Colors are reproduced naturally and image detail is sharp, even on the doll sequence. There is some color correction inherent in the source material, but in the sequence where Molly and Amy say goodbye, the light going against Molly's head as a tear falls is the stuff of Malick. Great work by cinematographer Jason McCormick, and excellent Blu-ray on the whole.The Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround of Booksmart is also up to the par of the video and surpasses at times. Dialogue is consistent, but the soundtrack shines in things like parties where bass rumbles through the floorboards and crowd noise is immersive. There is a scene in a cab that makes you rethink the lossless track (not really), but when you learn later that some of the audio was captured on iPhones and pulled into the final cut, it helps reinforce how impressive the sound treatment is.Extras:
The big extra here is a commentary from Wilde that is fairly impressive. A solo track throughout, she manages to watch the film and not have a lot of silent gaps in doing so, whether it's introducing a cast member, a music cue or getting into the breakdown of a particular scene. Directorial intent is covered, and reiterating an earlier observation about how much was captured on iPhones both audio and video. She raves about the stars and cast and particular moments therein, and it's clear from the track how proud she is about the material, and should be.
Next up is "The Next Best High School Comedy" (17:47), which is the closest thing to a making of for the film. It covers thoughts on the story, the intent to tell the story and the cast on the material, and crew on the actors, while everyone shares their thoughts on Wilde the director. It is a nice piece. "Dance Fantasy" (2:24) covers THAT scene, with rehearsals, cast thoughts and such, and "Dressing Booksmart" (2:41) looks at the wardrobe. Three deleted scenes (4:42) include the full dance sequence, and a stills gallery and trailer (2:27) round things out.Final Thoughts:
Recently there was mention of Booksmart as one of the best films of 2019, and I can see the reasons for the praise. With performances that are devoted and impassioned, and a story that is familiar but with its own wrinkles and own comfort, proves to carve out some space for itself and makes you laugh and tear up in the process. Technically the disc is above average and the supplements are pretty good, and if you haven't seen this one yet, you should certainly check it out.