Weekend Herald - Canvas
It’s finally here — the New Zealand International Film Festival kicked off on Thursday night and will be running for roughly the next fortnight, featuring some of the best cinema the world has to offer.
But that doesn’t mean you should overlook the riches at the multiplex, either. Chief among these is Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde, rating TBC), which lands in cinemas next week. Billed as a the young woman’s Superbad, the directorial debut from Olivia Wilde features Beanie Feldstein (sister to Jonah Hill) and Kaitlyn Dever as a pair of exceptionally committed, smart teenage girls who make a pact to let loose and experience the wilder side of teenagedom the night before high school graduation.
What follows is a night of high jinks not quite at the level of raucousness of that previous comedy, but one more warmly based in the deep friendship of its two leads, whose us-against-the-world spirit carries the film through many of its slower early patches.
Wilde reveals herself to be a playful, even adventurous film-maker, often elevating scenes that might otherwise feel rote or done-before to offer interesting little grace notes.
She’s aided by a wonderfully game young cast (and a few notable guest stars); a lineup that reinforces the film’s broader theme of seeing the good in everyone and valuing the talents of those who are different.
Occasionally the script hits a few road bumps. For a film that prides itself on a certain level of wokeness, its viewpoint on class is sorely lacking, with some of the weaker moments coasting on the warmth exuded by the characters and Wilde’s kindhearted lens.
In its best moments, however, the film captures the whirling intensity of friendship that the close-quarters of high school creates, a giddy passion best evoked in the way the two friends stop dead in their tracks to shower each other in compliments whenever the other makes a costume change.
It’s this sudden injection of compassion that sets Wilde’s debut apart, a tone that is remarkably assured for a first-time feature. Though the going suggestion is that Booksmart join the pantheon of teen comedies like Superbad, Mean Girls and the like, I felt it had more in common with accessible, but edgier, slightly more melancholic teen offerings like The Edge of Seventeen, Lady Bird, or even television classic Freaks and Geeks. It may not carry the same thematic heft of those, but as a teen film Booksmart holds immense re-watch ability value, sure to become a sleepover staple in the next few years.