Some of the best coming-of-age comedy characters have easily been the losers: McLovin in Superbad, Andie in Pretty in Pink, and now Molly and Amy in Booksmart. We love these characters because they are relatable and usually aren’t the focus of attention in real life. The genre often divides teens into two categories, the ones the audience is supposed to like (unpopular kids) and the ones the audience should hate (popular kids). While this usually provides plenty of laughs, Booksmart proves that teen movies don’t have to be divisive to be relatable and that young characters can be much more than a stereotype.
Olivia Wilde‘s directing debut Booksmart follows two star-students and best friends, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), through their final night as high schoolers. They’ve spent their four years in high school studying hard, but Molly realizes that the kids she thought she was better than are going to the same great colleges she and Amy got into sacrificing their social lives. Molly is set on proving to the popular kids that she and Amy are smart and fun by going to their first house party before graduation.
At first, the characters in Booksmart are immediately recognizable to us based on the stereotypical characters in past coming-of-age comedies. Molly and Amy are the unpopular yet superior students that just aren’t given a chance by the popular kids. Nick is the cute but always joking jock, who the audience is supposed to be attracted to but roll their eyes at. Annabelle AKA Triple-A is the slut that sleeps with any guy she wants. Jared and Gigi are the spoiled rich kids who can’t possibly have any problems. George and Alan are the overdramatic theater kids. Molly has believed she was better than all of her peers until she finds out they aren’t the stupid, unserious characters that the genre has made us believe is true for everyone. Triple-A tells Molly that she may have a social life, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t care about getting into a good school too. This cracks Molly’s understanding of everyone she goes to school with. If Triple-A can be good at handjobs and standardized tests, then what does that mean for Molly’s identity as star-student? As the movie progresses, Molly’s perception of her fellow classmates and herself evolves, and the audience sees characters that are far beyond the stereotypes most young characters are limited to.
The plot of the film focuses on showing the other students that Molly and Amy are more than what they think they are. They are more than the best students in the school. They can be fun too. It would be hypocritical if the film didn’t allow for Molly and Amy’s idea of their classmates evolve with how their classmates see them. Molly proves that she can flirt and joke around with Nick, despite how serious she usually is about their student council duties. Amy shows her classmates that she’s not just Molly’s sidekick best friend, but a brave martyr too. She diverts the police that bust Nick’s party to save everyone else from getting arrested. Showing the nuance of the main characters is only half of what Booksmart achieves by the end. In Molly and Amy’s journey to have fun before they graduate, they learn that they refused to understand their classmates to feel better about themselves and how trivial that mindset is.
The best and incredibly feminist aspect of Booksmart is that its female characters realize the idea that a specific type of woman is better than another is a counteractive way to see other women. Despite being the picture-perfect feminist, Molly hates Triple-A once she knows that she was able to get into Yale while still being a sexual human being. Molly plays into the nickname that the boys at school came up with and judges Triple-A just as the boys want her to, a misguided attempt to make herself feel superior that many women don’t realize they do. All women are taught from a young age that being the overtly sexual girl is both what men want and what isn’t allowed. Teen movies, especially those with male main characters, further this idea that the sluts should be hated but sleeping with them is an accomplishment and a rite of passage into adulthood. Booksmart doesn’t play into that idea and takes a better look at the so-called slut character. After Molly escapes the busted party, Triple-A finds her walking on the side of the road and offers her a ride home. Triple-A, whose real name we find out is Annabelle, tells Molly that the rumors about her blowing guys on the side of the road aren’t real. At first, the movie redeems the slut character like most teen movies try to do earnestly, but continue to shame women for being sexual. The audience thinks, “Oh, she’s actually a good girl! We can like her now!” Then the movie serves another curve ball by revealing that, yeah, Annabelle likes giving blowjobs in boys cars, but the rumors about her still misrepresent who she is and are unfair. Molly, the seemingly perfect little feminist, understands that even she has room to grow and realizes her judgment of Annabelle was wrong. Molly hopefully isn’t the only one who realizes her toxic and ingrained judgment of Annabelle, but the audience should as well.
By the end of the movie, Booksmart isn’t about showing the popular kids that Molly and Amy are actually better than them because they can be smart and fun. They didn’t “beat” them or win anything. Molly and Amy realize that there’s no sense in proving anyone is better than anyone else when surviving high school is a feat in itself in today’s world when so many young people die at the hands of gun violence in their own schools. The film doesn’t alienate the losers from the popular kids, which is a toxic mindset that divides young people and creates a superiority complex that can lead to violence. Subtextually, it aligns with the mindset of the brave students who survived the Parkland shooting and have united together, despite some being what movies would usually consider popular or unpopular. The themes in Booksmart better represent the mindset of young people of this generation, who are, for the most part, more accepting than ever.
Older people try to water down and stereotype young people in media all the time so that they can predict and police them. Booksmart lets its young characters be as nuanced and multidimensional as they would be in real life. Molly can be a radical feminist and still have a crush on the jock. Nick can be the jock and have an understanding of each Hogwarts house. Gigi and Jared might be spoiled, but they crave friendship just as much as Molly and Amy do. Hope might be judgmental, but she’s more understanding than Amy expected she would be. Booksmart allows each character to surprise and grow in ways that coming-of-age comedies don’t always show for the sake of a reliable laugh at the dumb jock or the ditsy hot blonde.
Separating teens into categories is a tired way of relating to them in comedies when Booksmart so brilliantly proves that young people are in fact, more than just one type of person. Movies don’t have to sacrifice laughs for a little more respect for their characters, especially the female characters. Booksmart is a sex-positive, empathetic, and accepting coming-of-age comedy that will unify young people for years to come.
Booksmart is in theaters everywhere May 24th.