“Good morning, winner. Take a deep breath. Good. You’re ready to dominate this day. You’ve worked harder than everyone, and that is why you’re a champion. You understand that greatness takes sacrifice. Visualize what you still want to achieve. Stand atop the mountain of your success and look down at everyone who’s ever doubted you. F*ck those losers. F*ck them in their stupid f*cking faces.”
A re-imagination of what it means to be a ‘nerd’ in the Coming of Age and Comedy genre.
Booksmart (2019) begins with this motivational mantra read by the amazing Maya Rudolph, it is in this scene that we, the viewers, are introduced to one of the two protagonists of the film: Molly. Cross-cuts in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut showcases the parts of Molly’s world that remain important to her, important role models such as Michelle Obama to her Valedictorian outfit. It’s important to realise that whilst Booksmart’s Molly is inspired by the future and her greatest achievements, this is a film that is about figuring out who you are and having fun. Part of the classic ‘Coming of Age’ genre that has span decades within the history of film, Booksmart is a new-age classic that breaks into the 21st century with its own unique perspective on the teenagers of the 21st century. Booksmart is about two bookish girls who have dedicated their entire lives to get into two colleges of their choice.
What is particularly innovative about Booksmart is that whilst it includes many aspects of the narrative that resembles its predecessors, Booksmart utilises the history made within the Coming of Age/Comedy duo genre and manipulates it to highlight the refreshing and sometimes realistic nature of adolescence. The likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and many other hit films have created this rose-tinted version of reality that is identified within the grounds of high schools in these films. The soundtrack is emblematic of what Wilde is aiming to create within the film, this is evident through the introduction of quirky and energetic Gigi (Billie Lourd), the song by Santigold non-diegetically playing in the background as Gigi’s hair flies and the pace is slowed down accentuates the contrast between both realities created in the film. On one hand, we see the hard-working nature of Molly and Amy who have studied their entire lives to get into Yale and Columbia but through the scenes including characters such as Gigi, Wilde pays homage to the films that have shaped a generation of viewers who adore Coming of Age films.
It’s scenes like these that accentuate my love for this film. I love the magic of Gigi’s fairy-like character to the fantasy musical sequence that embodies the characteristics of a person who, from her exterior, is viewed by her fellow classmates as being a “40-year-old” but in reality, Molly’s fantasy scene hones to the viewer an emotive understanding of who she actually is as a person and the way many people perceive those around them.
However, the film also subverts old-age classics through sequences where our 21st century is ridiculed for the construction of inaccurately created dolls, we see Amy become brainwashed by the objectifying portrayal of women whilst under the use of drugs. Booksmart not only creates a humorous tone within its film but a satirical and social message underlines the narrative. You can be a great student and also party, you can be a party animal and get into Harvard and you can also succumb to the pressures that have been created within the society you believe you know.
Films like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Lady Bird often portray their main characters as being uninterested in the academic part of education, focusing upon the friendships and outside events that shape a character’s life but Booksmart remains faithful to our bookish characters and celebrates the hopeful futures of all the characters. What’s refreshing about this film is that the story is pinpointed on the close-bond between Amy and Molly, showing through dance scenes and a horribly realistic argument where they both experienced the pain of friendship at its worst.
Ultimately, Booksmart fits the conventions of many classics whilst being able to defy the stereotypes that have been infiltrated into previous films. As ultimately, the high school comedy feels so much like a classic because it embodies the conventional elements that make Coming of Age films, with its camaraderie between the two protagonists, loyalty, awkward sexual tensions and wild behaviour and humour. It could be argued that all of those and more encapsulate what it is to be a teenager within the world of cinema but Wilde is here to argue against that and she does so by taking your not typical protagonists, Amy and Molly, and exemplifying their studious nature and wholesome friendship whilst remaining faithful to a beloved cinematic genre.