There have been plenty of entertaining teen-party films over the years, from John Hughes’ debut classic “Sixteen Candles” and “Weird Science” through the “American Pie” trilogy and Judd Apatow’s “Superbad.” The new film “Booksmart” tries to put a fresh spin on the genre by making its two lead high school seniors female, but the antics they engage in are alternately timeworn clichés or push-the-envelope raunch, resulting in a movie that will make most viewers worry rather than laugh about the next generation.
The movie follows Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), lifelong best friends who have spent their entire four years of high school avoiding any semblance of partying or a social life besides each other. On the day before graduation, Molly overhears some classmates saying they wish they could have gotten to know her or have sex with her, and realizes that these classmates have made it into Ivy League schools too, despite the fact they have fully indulged in partying throughout high school.
Furious that she has forced herself to miss out on everything her peers find fun in life, Molly challenges Amy to go to the biggest graduation party of the entire school that night. As they frantically wind up at two wrong addresses — an empty yacht where the richest geek in class tries and fails to throw a bash, and a hilariously bizarre murder mystery party thrown by the theater club — the girls get ever more desperate to get to the real party they have no address for but are watching unfold epically in real-time streaming.
When they finally get to the right place, events escalate in some pretty wild and inventive ways. But the movie also takes its portrayal of teen partying and the sadly PC mindsets of brainwashed millennials to new extremes that might leave viewers wondering how low movies can go.
In the film’s most shocking scene, Amy — who came out as a lesbian two years before but has never acted on that inclination — winds up having a sexual encounter on the floor of the house party’s bathroom with a girl she just learned is also lesbian. The scene is portrayed for full sensuality, with slow passionate kisses and sensual music, until Amy is told that she’s doing the position wrong and in her mortification over the mistake, projectile vomits on the other girl. Rest assured, this movie’s determination to make a teen lesbian relationship happen results in the girls exchanging numbers the next day.
It’s true that the films I first mentioned from past eras have glorified teen sex, alcohol and marijuana usage as well. But in the Hughes films, there were lessons to be learned, and ultimately true love and a sense of ethics or morality won out.
The same goes for “Superbad,” in which two teen male nerds try to lose their virginity with girls amid a wild night of partying yet find themselves waking up without female companionship and wind up starting real relationships with girls they truly find interesting.
“Booksmart” had a good idea in flipping the genders on “Superbad” by making its two main protagonists teenage girls and showing their often-discounted points of view. But it largely focuses on shredding the envelope of acceptable behavior.
Most maddening of all is the fact that since “Booksmart” is directed and written by women, it is being sold to impressionable young minds as a strongly feminist movie. Yet when the lead girls’ transformation in the movie is to simply indulge in every base instinct they can find, it’s obvious that the real message here is that empowerment is defined by anything-goes amorality.
The actors throughout “Booksmart” deliver energetic performances that occasionally draw laughs and show promise for future stardom. But aside from the acting and very sporadic flashes of true wit, it’s one movie that viewers would be smart to avoid.