Inspired by our discussions of pop culture, and a previous Woroni column Skippy and Beagle, we – Avocado and Toast, two later year students looking for new forms of procrastination – will discuss a text in a way that’s second nature to us: in message form, with a healthy sprinkling of references and tangents. Up for discussion this time: Booksmart, the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde.
Toast: So we saw this film together a few weeks ago and for full disclosure, when we went up to buy tickets, the lovely woman at the counter took one look at us and said “Booksmart, right?” I don’t know if it was my blazer that did it, but it probably helped!
Avocado: Hahaha that’s one way of saying we are very much the target audience for this film, and I know we’ve got a lot to say about it!
T: Booksmart focuses on two best friends, Molly and Amy, who have prioritised studying over partying throughout their school years. They have been accepted into Yale and Columbia, respectively. On the last day of high school, they learn their partying classmates have been admitted into equally good colleges. This prompts Molly to persuade Amy to join her in experiencing one proper high school party.
A: This summary brings me nicely to a problem I have with the entire premise of the movie. It suggests that Molly and Amy simply made a mistake in choosing to study rather than party. Their school is obviously a wealthy one, and an implication that the film never addresses is that many of their classmates would have had parents who were either Ivy League alumni or wealthy enough to afford expensive tutoring.
T: This is true! I made similar assumptions regarding the wealth and alumni status of their classmates’ parents. The film does note the academic achievements of a few of their classmates. However, in one case they do so through SAT scores, which links back to class: expensive tutoring can be directed towards increasing SAT scores. The school reminded me of Clueless in that there appears to be some economic diversity, as there is in a lot of teen-based content, but you’re right in questioning the extent of this diversity.
A: It’s interesting you bring up Clueless, because I was actually reminded of Lady Bird. Like Booksmart, Lady Bird is a female coming-of-age film, but it offers a more nuanced portrayal of class differences. Its protagonist is hyper-aware of the differences between her and her wealthier classmates. She is constantly frustrated by the disadvantages she faces because of her working-class background. Although Booksmart shows Molly living in a humble apartment, the film does not draw out the ramifications of her implied lower socioeconomic status. The only distinctions it clearly marks are between the super-rich Jared, who throws a lavish party on a hired yacht, and his merely wealthy class-mates, one of whom, Nick, throws the party of the night at his aunt’s house.
T: Ahhhh another reminder that I need to watch Lady Bird! I’m very happy that you brought up the multiple parties situation, because it’s interesting how much this film operates as a quest! There’s a goal, and there are certain hurdles that have to be cleared to get to Nick’s party. Firstly, they need to find out where the party is. Secondly, they need to escape the other parties that are happening that night, and that they don’t want to attend. And finally, they need a mode of transportation to get to the right party. To do so, they use their intelligence and research abilities in a social rather than academic context.
A: Yes they definitely use their intelligence, but I would note they also make lots of very stupid decisions. Disguising themselves by making masks out of their own hair probably isn’t their smartest move. I love the point about the quest narrative, though it’s also a coming-of-age tale. They literally go on a journey to find the right party, but the whole movie is also a metaphorical journey towards adulthood. This involves making mistakes, which also extends to their friendship. At one point in the evening, they have a massive argument about their entire relationship. While based on a misunderstanding, the fight grows so heated that the sound cuts out and you simply see them yelling.
T: They do reconcile by the end, which highlights the short time-span the film covers. For the most part of the film’s 100-odd minute run time, we’ve been immersed in one heightened night of a friendship that’s lasted far longer. While the school pick-up at the start of the film has been replaced by an airport drop-off at the end, their friendship remains strong.
A: That’s a great pick-up! I love that the ending is also in some ways a beginning, as Molly and Amy both embark on their post-high school lives. I’ve heard critics describe the film as ending “in medias res”, or in the middle of things – the ending is not so much a resolution as a continuation of their lives. Molly and Amy may be off to get pancakes, but that’s a trip the audience won’t get to see.
T: See, now I just want pancakes, so thanks for that. I’ll close by saying this: I would definitely recommend this film, particularly going to see it in a cinema. There were lots of people at our screening, and I feel their reactions enhanced my overall enjoyment of the film.
A: Yeah, despite my critiques, I loved this film and I’d highly recommend it. And, as Molly would say, “fuck yeah I want pancakes”! Though seriously, let’s get pancakes sometime.
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