‘Booksmart’ is for a new kind of nerd

You’ll read plenty of think pieces about Booksmart this week. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut about best friends who make one last attempt to have fun before high school graduation has garnered high praise since its SXSW premiere and currently sits at 100 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes ahead of its May 24 release.

On a lot of great film-centric sites like this one, you’ll read about how important the movie is for women, especially young women who haven’t seen a teen comedy like this before. You’ll read about its body positivity, its honesty surrounding sexuality and its very real portrayal of fierce friendship. These are all very valid analyses of this funny film, but for me, Booksmart feels like a beacon for those of us who put more emphasis on “school” than “high” in our teenage years.

Best friends and high achievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) realize on the eve of their high school graduation that their hard-partying peers were accepted into top-tier colleges. They seize the opportunity to spend their last night of adolescence making up for lost time, with plenty of awkward obstacles blocking them from what you’re “supposed” to find fun in high school. While a lot of classic comedies cover teenage regrets (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, 10 Things I Hate About You), they’re almost always about cliques or love interests. Never, ever, “Did I study too hard? Did I care too much? Should I have made more time for fun, for being ‘normal’?” For Amy and Molly, high-achieving is normal, and Booksmart celebrates that.

Though there’s some distance between myself and high school, I’ve wondered through the years about all the things I should’ve done – gone to more parties, sat in the student section at Friday night football games, actually enjoyed the Homecoming dance instead of singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody from the outskirts of the dance floor. Young adult entertainment was always a fun escape, but it wasn’t at all what I was experiencing.  Like Amy and Molly, I was much too busy conjugating Spanish verbs, analyzing Dickens and studying quadratic equations to worry about whether Freddie Prinze, Jr. was into me or not (he wasn’t, but Booksmart reminded me that that’s OK).

Here’s the thing Molly and Amy learn a lot sooner than I did – you can and should care about achieving without feeling like you squandered your high school years. These characters don’t just easily fall into the pattern of a partier overnight – it’s awkward and weird and doesn’t go at all as they planned. When socializing and having fun just comes as a natural priority to so many teenagers, Booksmart makes room for those who chose differently. Not only by some strange and painful social hierarchy, but also just by choice.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve cared less about seeing the “real” high school experience on screen. I’m much more interested in whether people like me regret the way they spent their time back then – once they realized their GPA didn’t really “matter” all that much in the real world. Enter Booksmart.

Thanks to this film and hopefully others like it, being a hard worker and caring about grades and achievement is no longer relegated to “nerd” characters. The pressure to succeed is a constant reality for today’s teenagers – an age in which 100 percent of my high school’s graduating class went on to seek higher education. The fact that film is reflecting that should be celebrated – especially a film as aesthetically and tonally unique as Wilde’s thoughtful debut.

Photos Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

Photos: Dever and Feldstein are hilarious and real in Booksmart.

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