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Behind the Screen: “Booksmart

“Booksmart”
Rated R
102 Minutes
Released May 24

“Booksmart” is Gen Z’s American Pie. The now classic American Pie was just as groundbreaking in style when it premiered in 1999, and two of “Booksmart”’s producers, Craig Perry and Warren Zide, also produced American Pie. 

For her first project as a director, actress Olivia Wilde has created a film with an upbeat, head-spinning and unique style that keeps a consistent rhythm beginning to end. And, the style suits the subject – the days before and after high school graduation. The images may be almost ephemeral as are our complex and emotion-laden memories of milestones like graduation day. Due to Wilde’s masterful direction, the rich and colorful characters jump off the screen loud and clear, just like the visual recollections you may have from this particular time in your life. I was not surprised to learn that Wilde has directed several music videos. “Booksmart” has the style of an extended music video, with an effusive energy that lifts up the story and carries it from beginning to end. 

If you graduated from high school in this country, think about your grad night, or another time in your life as a high school student, where the circumstances of your existence changed drastically within a short time. Memorable characters, many over the top, abound in this film. The two leads, Kaitlyn Dever (Justified, Last Man Standing) as Amy and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) as “Molly,” are very well cast. You will probably recognize their characters distinctly from your own past. The movie is a real and honest experience. 

Amy’s parents, played by Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte, are hilariously out of touch with the teens’ sensibilities. Miss Fine (Jessica Williams) and Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) try ridiculously hard to be part of the kids’ stratosphere, yet remain in the upper reaches. Cuba Gooding’s son, Mason Gooding, plays high school heartthrob Nick. Stoner Gigi, who drops into crucial scenes unexpectedly and yet is always on the perimeter of the action, always dancing to her own drummer, is everywhere – we all knew someone like that growing up…she’s played by Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher’s daughter. This is about all the kids who were outside the elite ranks of the socially “popular” kids, yet who were actually the most colorful and unique characters in school.

The writers did a fantastic job telling this story, as much as it is a universal tale populated with genuine seekers of meaning, clowns and fools, with unexpected twists, and is, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The script had been in development since 2009 and went through several rewrites and iterations, to become this current version that so well exemplifies today’s current high school experience.

Most of the characters may be teens. However this is not just a teen movie – it’s a fun, thought-provoking commentary on human nature, a movie about the times that shaped our personalities, told smoothly in bursts of high-energy eye-opening insights.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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