With women filling the primary roles, ‘Booksmart’ fosters equality in the film industry.
One of the best things about the buzz Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird received in the past few months is how many women have come forward with anecdotes about feeling represented and understood onscreen. The likes of Jessica Chastain and Gina Rodriguez are among those who have praised Gerwig’s nuanced depiction of adolescence. It wouldn’t be a stretch to hope that higher profile female coming-of-age stories directed by women are likely to be greenlit since Lady Bird helped refocus our cinematic consciousness in an era of Hollywood that wishes to prioritize women’s empowerment.
Very few directorial debuts are glossy, put-together affairs like Lady Bird was. But all the same, Olivia Wilde seems to be setting up a stunning first feature with Booksmart, a film that will also be about best friends trying to get through the throes of high school. Variety announced that Wilde’s coming-of-age film will not only star fantastic up-and-coming actresses Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, who was also in Lady Bird, but the project has also received the backing of Annapurna Pictures.
There isn’t normally a lot of buzz around production companies getting on board with certain films, but it’s usually fun when Annapurna is involved. Recent films in their line-up include Phantom Thread and 20th Century Women. Moreover, this is the company that will bring us new works from Barry Jenkins, Pablo Larraín, and Karyn Kusama in the coming years, so Wilde’s debut is definitely in good hands. Gloria Sanchez, a women-focused production banner, will co-produce alongside Annapurna. In fact, the initial idea for Booksmart came from Gloria Sanchez producer Jessica Elbaum (Bachelorette).
Booksmart will focus on the lives of Dever and Feldstein’s co-protagonists, best friends and “academic superstars.” The girls suddenly realize, on the eve of their high school graduation, that they ought to have had a bit more fun during their school years. As a result, they vow to cram four years of shenanigans into a single night. Hopefully they learn that high school isn’t actually the end of the line, but I’m willing to wait for the actual film before questioning this premise too much. The script was originally written by the duo of Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins (Black-ish) and is currently being revised by Hot Pursuit producer Katie Silberman.
Dever and Feldstein have both been slowly but surely building promising resumes and are lovely, charismatic additions to Booksmart. Dever has found success in a bunch of films starring high-profile actors such as Short Term 12, Laggies, and The Spectacular Now and most recently featured in We Don’t Belong Here and Detroit. Feldstein’s budding career started out with a breakout role in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising before co-starring in Lady Bird. She was recently cast in the television reboot of What We Do in the Shadows.
Wilde’s acting resume has been a mixture of “she deserves better” (Cowboys & Aliens, In Time, The Lazarus Effect) and a smattering of good roles, including Her and Drinking Buddies (which was directed by past Gerwig collaborator Joe Swanberg). As for her career behind the camera, Wilde directed music videos and the short film Free Hugs. The latter, a 23-minute effort for Glamour magazine (which you can watch below), is a pretty good indicator of her style and concerns as a director. The short features deadpan and absurd humor, as well as a definitive focus on women and their relationships with one another, which would work well for a coming-of-age drama.
The premise of Booksmart doesn’t necessarily sound like something too different to Lady Bird, but it is a kind of film is needed in reshaping Hollywood to include women more holistically. Representation, after all, doesn’t need to constantly exercise originality to be worthwhile; how many coming-of-age films about boys and men cover the same premise or concerns? Films like Lady Bird and Booksmart are definitely about reconfiguring the balance, with a plus side of having promising attachments at the same time. According to Variety, when Elbaum first brought the film’s concept to Gloria Sanchez, her main concern was to give more opportunities to women in the industry. With women directing, writing and starring in the film, a lot of that vision is becoming a tangible reality.