‘Booksmart’ explores chaos, restlessness of the end of high school

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The end of high school is an apocalypse. Once-secure social statures crumble to dust, and a daily routine revolving through familiar faces and environments suddenly ends. “Booksmart” understands the stakes of this specific quarterlife crisis, spinning an entertaining thread before falling prey to its tendency to sugarcoat the situation.

The film follows Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), a pair of best friends who never quite branched out beyond one another, leaving them in an awkward state of uncertainty with the oncoming transition to college. Overhearing gossip in the bathroom, Molly learns that the peers she’s been calling idiots have gotten into colleges that are as reputable as hers, sending her into an existential spiral. Hell-bent on proving their capacity to have fun, the two friends embark on an adventure to track down the hottest party of the night.

Molly’s growing sympathy for her classmates ends up being the story’s strongest angle. A top-to-bottom celebration of rambunctious teenage archetypes, even the most peripheral characters and cliques possess their own comedic tenors. Dever and Feldstein make for a firecracker screwball duo, ricocheting off one another with an organic, live-wire chemistry. Director Olivia Wilde, an experienced actress herself, navigates her ensemble expertly, allowing a freedom to these performances while corralling them all to fit the same milieu.

“Booksmart” maintains its manic pinball energy, snappily bounding between raunchy gags and occasional slips into the surreal. Though an impressive number of jokes land, the movie falls back on some tackier attempts at keeping things lively, such as endless slow-motion shots and a self-consciously hip soundtrack composed of seconds-long fragments of squeaky-clean hits. Ultimately, “Booksmart” is too enamored with the prospect of being a coming-of-age hit and slips into a sentimentality that’s a little too tidy.

The most egregious instance involves a climactic argument between Molly and Amy, positioned as the emotional apex of their relationship. Midway through their dispute, Wilde makes the bewildering choice to fade out the audio track of their dialogue and overlay the scene with a sappy piano tune. As consistently funny as “Booksmart” is, it can’t land its big emotional swings if it won’t even let its perfectly capable actors confront a difficult situation.

Jackson Kim Murphy covers film. Contact him at [email protected].