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When I first heard about Booksmart, having not seen the trailer nor read about it actively online, I hadn't felt so excited to watch a movie about bookworms practically since Matilda as a child.
Though the movie ended up not being as much about that. Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are exemplary high-school students— at least, as far as their work ethic goes—who had completely devoted the past four years to their studies in order to secure their places in prestigious American universities.
This is all well and good until Molly realizes that the people she thought didn't take school seriously in truth managed to keep up their grades while also having fun. Feeling as though they missed out and seeing an opportunity to leave a lasting impression with the "cool" kids, Molly coerces Amy into attending school vice-president Nick's (Mason Gooding) party the night before graduation. As expected, shenanigans pop up at every corner of their nightly excursion to the party.
This movie made me realize just how detached I am from the teenagers of today—and quite possibly many other younger people—because to me it seems incredibly uneven in its storytelling. When it comes to themes, I thought that the friendship angle was great, but the sex talk was a little much.
I understand that it's important for (young) women—especially those in the LGBTQQIP2SAA community—to find empowerment in every resource available to them (in this case, entertainment media). But I would for once like to experience a mainstream, queer-led narrative that doesn't revolve around sexuality. This isn't because I think it's an unnecessary topic to explore, but because it seems synonymous with the community when we know that that's not all there is to it.
People who aren't straight or cisgender are regular people too, and sex certainly isn't all they care about. With such a strong focus on it in mainstream media, that's unfortunately the impression it's probably going to give.
If we're to normalize the community, it'd be more beneficial to start introducing narratives whereby characters take on many different roles, whether ordinary or otherworldly, and romantic pursuits aren't always centre stage. We see it in lesser known stories, but it's time to make that transition to the norm.
Had that theme been reduced or virtually cut, more time could have been devoted to the relationship between Amy and Molly, as well as their relationship with their classmates. I didn't feel as though the girls' major disagreement was built up to effectively, as Amy made no indication throughout the film that she honestly had a serious issue with Molly's attitude, and Molly never seemed too annoyed with Amy's shortcomings.
That being said, the fact that they understood each other well enough to be able to bury the hatchet that quickly proved the strength of their bond. I also liked that the girls—particularly Molly—had to take the time to learn what these people are really like outside of their preconceived notions of teenagehood. Bookworms are usually presented as the ones who can do no wrong, so it's refreshing and validating to see them in situations that feel more human.
What's also unique here is that there were no hard feelings between anyone involved. Other teen movies would have characters realize "who their true friends are" and ditch the supposed "bad apples," but here the resolution was more nuanced and true to real life.
Even if some people aren't who you expected them to be, it doesn't necessarily make them bad or unworthy of your time, and that idea was well-portrayed in the film. Not everyone is meant to be your best friend, but you can still be supportive and leave an impression that's uplifting.
And of course, it feels so good to be wrong about people you previously had a negative or dismissive opinion of. You learn a lot about yourself and others, growing all the while.
That still doesn't mean the girls had to go all out and lose themselves in the process just to figure all that out, however, namely Amy. Nobody should ever have to sacrifice their own morals and interests for the sake of conformity. It's okay to want to give people a chance and have an open mind, but never at the expense of one's safety and dignity.
I wouldn't have even minded if the entire film was about the girls getting into a couple shenanigans, realizing it's not for them, and going back to comfortably being themselves. Although that sounds more like a Miyazaki thing, to be honest.
When it's all said and done, I did enjoy our leads for their endless compliments and silly moments, and their one teacher Mrs. Fine (Jessica Williams) was an absolute soldier sister who I wish shared more screen time with the girls. For what we got, there is a lot here worth checking out, whether or not you prefer the more raunchy side of things.