Anti-Catholic Philosophy Offensive
Booksmart is one of the most vulgar and vile movies I have seen in a long time. If this is an accurate representation of all of America's youth, I would be tempted to ask God to burn the country down and start over.
This movie has a lot in common with a much superior film: Can't Hardly Wait. Both movies are about graduated or soon-to-be-graduated seniors who go on journeys of discoveries at a big party. Both movies have drinking, partying, and a bathroom hook-up. But whereas Can't Hardly Wait feels like a night of youthful excess to be played for comedy, Booksmart feels like an empty and vulgar screed of existential emptiness.
The story revolves around two graduating seniors. Molly (Beanie Feldstein) is an over-achieving, class president who thinks that she is better and smarter than her classmates. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) is the beta of the pair, a shy lesbian who is afraid to tell her crush about her feelings. These two have avoided the party scene in high school to concentrate on their studies in order to get into good schools. Molly has a mini-breakdown when she has a revelation that the party animals of the school also got into good colleges. Determined to get that party experience, Molly forces Amy to accompany her on a quest to find the best graduation party of their class.
It is hard for me to describe how ugly this movie is. The characters lack any kind of redeeming qualities. The impetus for the quest is Molly's insane envy. She is completely filled with an inflated pride and it shakes her to the core that anyone could be as smart as her without working as hard. Their success takes nothing away from her own achievements, but she is so enraged by their good fortune. The only reason that you feel even a little sympathetic with her is that all of her other classmates are portrayed as horrid. They are mean, selfish, sexually promiscuous, intoxicated, vulgarians.
The thing is that Molly and Amy are really no different. They talk explicitly about their own sexual indulgences, look at pornography together, and they rip apart all those they see as different than them. The only thing that separates our heroes from their perceived antagonists is that they don't publicly display their sins. For example, the two look down on a girl with slutty reputation called "Triple A" (Molly Gordon). And yet, Molly and Amy are open to engaging in random sexual encounters too. Also in a particularly mean spirited scene, Molly decides to mess with Amy's Christian parents (Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow). They are obviously struggling with their faith and how Amy's sexuality affects their family dynamic. The scene is meant to gently rib them for their discomfort with their "homophobia," but it comes off as very hurtful.
You could make the argument that a movie like Can't Hardly Wait is morally worse than Booksmart because it sanitizes the ugliness of sin and makes it more acceptable to watch. I am open to those arguments, but Can't Hardly Wait had a setting which is a bit scandalous, but it had a great deal of heart. It didn't seem to revel in the ugliness of the sin and Booksmart does. It wants to be "in your face" and shock you. Writers Emily Halpirn, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman have given us two very unlikeable, lecturing lead characters surrounded by flat, unfunny characters.
That is also one of the cardinal sins of the movie: it isn't funny. Bad comedians replace humor with shock, hoping that the vulgarity will be so great that it will provoke laughs, like in Borat. But that wears off quickly. I chuckled maybe once or twice in the entire film. Nothing was funny. Each new adventure should have been a ludicrous laugh riot. Instead I felt like Dante going deeper and deeper into the concentric circles of hell.
The movie tries to do an end run around their flat characters by trying to give them depth in the last act. But this almost makes it worse. Instead of complete caricatures engaging in deviant behavior, we had more realistic characters debasing themselves. No one seems to have grown from the experience.
What makes this even worse is that director Olivia Wilde actually displayed some real talent. There are about 5 minutes of the movie that are actually incredibly well-directed. There is a scene in a pool that is lyrical and heart-breaking which transitions into a single-camera shot that is expertly crafted both in technique and emotion. It's like she kept all of her directing ammo dry for these moments and then let everything else fall apart. But there wasn't much to do with the script.
The performances are mostly wooden or bad. Dever is the best, making her incredibly sympathetic in all of her pursuits. Feldstein does okay, but she is hampered by the wet-blanket that is Molly. Billie Lourd show some real charisma as the wild and unpredictable Gigi and Skylar Gisondo is sympathetically pathetic as the rich and lonely Jared. Other than that, everyone is completely forgettable.
This movie died a horrible death at the box office. And I don't think there has ever been a more just cinematic execution in movie history.