By Lucia Fox-Shapiro
BOOKSMART was released May 24, and has been referred to as the female SUPERBAD. The film is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, and stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as two high school overachievers who want one last night of fun before graduation. This female-centric film has relatable characters and realistic depictions of young women on the brink of adulthood.
Two years after my own high school graduation, I saw BOOKSMART with my best friend from high school. The dynamic between the two protagonists, Molly and Amy, immediately reminded us of our own dynamic, me being Molly and her Amy, and our own teenage experiences.
As a female film student aspiring to break into the industry in a couple years, I am delighted to see a women-centric, woman-directed film. The gender gap behind the camera is something that is slowly improving, yet still extremely apparent. Many male-written and directed films lack a female perspective, and often produce limited, stereotyped, female characters, who are usually outnumbered by the male characters. So, if most successful directors are male, and most leading characters are male, it is difficult for a woman to find her place within this male-dominated industry. BOOKSMART offers a glimmer of hope about change.
Movies about high school seniors about to go off to college is not a new genre, however, most of those films center around a male duo or group of high school boys. A common trope in these films is the pressure to lose one’s virginity before going to college (see AMERICAN PIE franchise). The female characters then become props in the story – characters to objectify and pursue. Molly and Amy are not on a quest to lose their virginity but to have one last night of fun before graduation. The story centers around their adventure as a powerful female duo and highlights their transition from high schoolers to young adults.
While the focus of the night is not to have sex, the film normalizes female sexuality in ways that previous movies of this genre have not. Instead of constructing high school girls merely as things for boys to have sex with to impress their friends, Molly and Amy have a normal curiosity and excitement towards sex. They both have found creative ways to experiment on their own. By showing young women having positive attitudes about sex, it helps to destigmatize young women’s sexuality. Additionally, BOOKSMART provides a refreshingly positive representation of a queer character. Instead of adding in a token gay side character in their high school, Amy is the lead queer character in the film. Amy came out sophomore year, two years before the film takes place. Her friends and family are supportive, and she is comfortable in her attraction to women. By not centering the story around her coming out, and not making her lesbianism a cause of drama in the story, the film provides a positive example of a queer character’s life, hopefully encouraging other young queers to be comfortable coming out to their friends and family, and being comfortable with their identity.
I particularly related to Molly’s character and was pretty similar to her in high school. I wasn’t the class president or valedictorian, but I was an overachiever obsessed with grades, extracurriculars, standardized tests, and college admissions. I let my obsession prevent me from experiencing a lot of traditional high school milestones and experiences. It frustrated me, just as it did Molly, that some people were able to do it all, and have a fun high school experience while yielding the same outcome as someone who avoided anything deemed irresponsible. It’s easy to feel resentment or regret for those years I spent taking ACT practice tests, studying for my AP classes, and getting every assignment done early, but I don’t think that’s productive. Immediately after graduating, I’m pretty sure everyone realizes that nothing about high school matters at all in the real world. All those 5s on AP tests will not prepare you for midterm and final season in college. No one cares if you were captain of the football team or head cheerleader. No one will ask you about the best high school party you went to. I think Molly and Amy both realized this by the end of the film, that there is much more life to experience beyond high school. Wilde says “there must be room to be really smart and love books and also love music and people and theatre and sex and frivolity”.
BOOKSMART is a refreshing feminist outlook on the female high school experience that includes a healthy depiction of young womanhood, including the hijinx and adventures, mistakes and successes, and love and friendship. I urge you to see this movie while it is still in theaters to support female-directed films, female-centered films, and positive representation of women’s sexuality.