If I had teen daughters, I would hope they were as smart, funny and loyal as Amy and Molly, the over-achieving best friends in the raucous and righteous comedy “Booksmart.” I would also hope that, as a parent, I would never learn what they were doing on the night before their high school graduation.
Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (played by Kaitlyn Dever) are the straight-A, straight-arrow kids at Crockett High School in Los Angeles. Both have plans for college: Molly is going to Yale as part of her drive to be a Supreme Court justice, while Amy is going to Columbia, after a summer in Botswana helping local women learn how to make tampons. (Don’t laugh. There was an Oscar-winning documentary about the subject just this year, “Period. End of Sentence.” Look it up.)
On the last day of school, while everyone else is turning homework assignments into confetti, these two still have pressing concerns. They then realize that their classmates are heading to prestigious colleges, even though they partied all through high school. Molly, the more forceful of the two, convinces Amy that they must cram a year’s worth of high school parties into one night — this night, Friday, before Saturday’s graduation ceremony.
The big party, they learn, is an unsupervised blowout at the home of the aunt of Nick (Mason Gooding), a jock and their class’ vice president — and, therefore, a thorn in Molly’s side all year. The girls vow to find this party, in part so Amy, who is a lesbian, can finally connect with her crush, the skateboarding Ryan (Victoria Ruesga).
In the bitingly funny script — credited to four women writers: Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman — there’s more than one party happening, and Amy and Molly end up dealing with missed connections, oddball classmates, a hallucinogenic trip that takes the girls into stop-motion animation, one weird pizza guy (Mike O’Brien), and their principal (Jason Sudeikis) popping up unexpectedly. It’s a crazy night, but nothing so crazy that our super-smart girls can’t handle it.
First-time director Olivia Wilde has made a movie far superior to some of the crap in which she has acted (e.g., “Life Itself,” “Love the Coopers” and “The Lazarus Effect” ). Wilde can set up a joke better than most directors, while also capturing the rhythms of high-school life and understanding the yearning souls of these smart, sweet, nerdy girls.
Wilde is blessed with abundantly talented actors in Dever (“The Front Runner,” “Beautiful Boy”) and Feldstein (“Lady Bird,” “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”), who embody these driven characters and have a BFF chemistry that’s explosive. There also are strategically placed grown-ups — including Jessica Williams, Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow — and a strong supporting cast of young talent that includes Molly Gordon, Diana Silvers, Austin Crute, Noah Galvin, Skyler Gisondo, and especially Billie Lourd (Carrie Fisher’s daughter), who steals scenes as the seemingly magical classmate Gigi.
“Booksmart” is more than its hilariously raunchy moments. It’s also a warm, wise valentine to high school, and the tighter-than-sisters friendship that made the ordeal worth enduring. Like the wish list presented to the Wizard of Oz, these girls have brains, hearts and courage — and they had them all along.
Opening Friday, May 24, at theaters everywhere. Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking - all involving teens. Running time: 102 minutes.