MovieMonday: Booksmart

Unmet Expectations

This film opened with very high hopes.  Crowd reactions to a March showing at SXSW had been great.  Early reviewers couldn’t decide whether it was just as good as 2007’s  “Superbad” or even more super-duper.  Promoters were so sure it would sell beaucoup tickets that they opened it on 2,500 theater screens, an ambitious number for an indie film, and waited for the crowds to arrive over Memorial Day weekend.

The crowds did not arrive.  To be fair, “Booksmart” could not have been expected to be more popular than “Aladdin,” the new Disney movie starring Will Smith.  Still, the filmmakers and promoters must have been disappointed when it ranked seventh in ticket sales, two slots behind the third week of “Pokemon Detective Pikachu.”  Ouch.

Last week, “Booksmart” promoters figured the audience would be larger, based on enthusiastic reports from viewers the previous weekend.  Instead, the results were worse; sales dropped more than 50 percent, and the number of tickets sold was half as many as for that dratted Pikachu thing.

What happened?  Since I had no interest in a Godzilla movie or an Elton John biopic — sorry, Sir Elton — I decided to give it a look.  I was one of three grownups (and nobody else) at a pre-dinner showing last Friday.

“Did you like that?” I asked the other woman as we left the theater.

She winced a little.  “I think that’s just the way movies are now,” she said before hurrying off to join her husband.

The Movie

The two lead characters are high school seniors Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).  Molly, the class valedictorian and student body president, has been accepted at Yale.  Amy is off to Columbia after she spends a summer in Botswana “helping women make their own tampons.”

Amy, who came out in 10th grade, has the hots for another girl, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga,) who, says Amy, exhibits “gender performance different from her sexual orientation.”

Molly is straight and a figure of fun at the school.  On one occasion, while she sits in a cubicle in an all-genders restroom, she hears one of the guys standing by the sinks say, “Her vagina is probably stuffed with diplomas.”

Molly and Amy have been best friends for, like, forever.  They can talk about anything together.  Says Molly:  “I once tried to masturbate with an electric toothbrush but got a horrible UTI (ed: urinary tract infection, I believe).  Horrible, horrible.”

That’s the first 15 minutes or so.  Oh, wait, I forgot the students pelting each other with water-filled condoms in the school hallway.

This sort of fun apparently is standard at Molly and Amy’s high school or maybe just senior year there.  The two are distressed to learn that all their studying and seriousness were for naught — other, less disciplined students who partied their high school years away still were admitted to Yale and Stanford — the horror!  (This part of the movie can be described most charitably as naive.  In upper-middle-class schools, ALL the students know exactly which colleges their peers have been invited to attend.)

The BFFs decide they must remedy their never-any-fun regrets by going to a particularly raucous party on the night before commencement.  The problem is they haven’t been invited and so do not know the address.  They end up at two other parties, one led by a group of drama students and the other an empty affair on an unpopular rich kid’s family yacht.  Along the way Molly and Amy take a Lyft, driven by their doofus white male principal (natch) but finally find their destination with the help of their favorite teacher, a smart and beautiful African American woman (also natch) who supplies them with sequined outfits and wise advice.

During the party Amy is frustrated in her attempts to connect with two different girls.  Molly is happy to be noticed by a crush of hers, the dim bulb student body VP who was one of the guys laughing at the vagina-diploma joke.  (But, seriously, Molly is really really smart.)

There comes a climax when Molly and Amy disagree.   Under all the vulgarity, it seems, this is a story about the ups and downs, and the ultimate tensile strength, of female friendship.  Yeah, right.

To be fair, the actors in this film do a good job.  The dialogue and the humor are more ribald and gross than in the usual comedy film.  The cinematography is also quite distinguished.  But the story is hard to take.

Go see it if you like.  I can’t recommend it.   OR the Pikachu movie.

Reflections

The Idiosyncratist enjoyed raucous moments in the last year of high school, but nothing like the ones in this film.  If any of the Id’s younger friends said “Booksmart” rang true to their experiences, the Id’s reaction would be one of dismay.

A couple questions:

1) The well-regarded actress who directed “Booksmart,” announced that she would prefer that supporters of Donald Trump did not attend.  (The Id’s interest in politics is equivalent to the Id’s interest in metallurgy, and so no offense was taken.) The film is strewn with feminist references and “Resist” symbols and all that, which is fine.  It goes to lengths to promote its diverse cast, to less credible effect.  Did the enthusiasts who thought “Booksmart would be a hot seller deliberately dismiss large segments of its potential audience?  Is adolescent vulgarity the exclusive province of white, upper-class progressives?

2) After “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Superbad,” “Juno,” and too many others to name, is there no room for tales of young people from different backgrounds?   Why don’t we see their coming-of-age stories — the funny ones (which I know for a fact are there) as well as the frustrating and ennobling struggles?  Imagine a comedy set in a majority Hispanic or African American high school, or even this — an Asian-majority school where the college admission struggle is more like the one portrayed, theoretically, in this movie.  Is any of these ideas unthinkable or, dare it be said, too diverse for our very progressive film industry? If not, where are those movies?

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