Annapurna Pictures has been producing some of the best films of the past decade. As a matter of fact in any given year after 2011, when the production house was founded, at least one Annapurna film stands as one of the best films of the year. It could be “Zero Dark Thirty” in 2012, “Her” or “American Hustle” in 2013, “Foxcatcher” in 2014, “Joy” in 2015, “Sausage Party” or “Everybody Wants Some” in 2016, “Phantom Thread” or “Detroit” in 2017, “Sorry to Bother You” or “Vice” or “Sisters Brothers” or “If Beale Street could Talk” OR “The Ballad of Buster Shrugs” in 2018, and now… “Booksmart” in 2019.
Ultimately it all comes back to Megan Ellison. The daughter of Larry Ellison, the 7th richest man on Earth, unsurprisingly doesn’t seem to care all that much about whether or not the films she backs make money. She backs bold visionary directors, some veterans some untested. She gives them financial backing that some call “excessive.” She’s actively involved with the films she puts money behind, hanging around the set, befriending the actors and making sure things go according to plan. She takes multi million dollar losses on films that win Oscars. It’s no wonder that Annapurna is struggling financially. It’s no wonder Ellison is one of the most prolific and successful women in Hollywood. It’s no wonder Booksmart is as bold, daring, and uncompromising as it is.
Booksmart is the Directorial debut of Olivia Wilde and it’s absolutely stunning. We’ve all seen this type of coming of age story before, Wilde and the team of female screenwriters, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman, may not be reinventing the wheel but, they might have just perfected it.
This coming of age comedy takes place in a kind of heightened reality, much like “Sorry to Bother You.” Two best friends are excited to graduate high school when Molly, student body president, discovers that many of the roudy, sex crazed, high schoolers she’s spent her entire academic career looking down on, have been doing just as well as she has. Horrified that her and Amy might have wasted their high school years studying, while everyone else managed to party AND study, they set out to go to one big party before they graduate.
From there the story hits many of the beats you would expect, but many thematic elements that are a breath of fresh air and with cinematography that always goes a step or two beyond what is required. That’s not to say anything negative about the story, it never comes across as cliche, the writers may be treading familiar territory but they’re treading in a wholly original way. I was honestly surprised to see four writing credits were given out, the comedy, character, and overall tone of the film is so thoroughly consistent with the direction I would’ve guessed Olivia Wilde wrote the film herself.
To speak more on the direction, it’s just great. It’s always so much more than it needs to be. Never settling for just pointing the camera at a subject, the shots are dynamic, the frames are full and, the set design is almost distractingly detailed. One scene, for example, takes place in an uber. There was enough going on that they didn’t need to decorate the back seat of the car with what seemed like tropical christmas lights, but they did. Not only does the scene look better now, it adds to the comedy. There are so many of these kind of mise en scene moments. Tiny things, totally insignificant bits that show such an attention to detail to every aspect of the film, from the sets to the editing. Olivia Wilde knocked it out of the park.
Every actor in this film, no matter the size of the role, had their time to shine, and they took it. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve seen in a long time. There is one character specifically who is so good I can’t even tell you who they are, so I won’t. Maya Rudolph isn’t even credited for her lines and she’s great too! Allison Jones deserves some kind of Casting Director award for her work on this movie. This film runs the gamut of comedic acting, from shockingly over the top to playfully subdued, it all works, no one is forcing it, there’s an authenticity to every performance. But that doesn’t mean that Beanie Feldstein wasn’t acting her ass off as Molly. Beanie was acting so well I think we all deserve an explanation as to why so much of “Lady Bird” was wasted following Saoirse Ronan around.
Beanie did everything the script demanded of her and then some, she hit all her comedic beats with gusto and demolished her dramatic beats with a subtlety and again, an authenticity, that really carried this entire movie. This is not to say Kaitlyn Dever didn’t do as well, she was every bit as present and natural, charming and overall fantastic as her co star. They’ve got a real chemistry that I honestly want to see more of, like… when’s Booksmart 2. Can we talk about the soundtrack? We got Death Grips in here? Anderson Paak?
|STUDIO:||Annapurna Pictures, United Artists|
|RELEASE DATE:||May 24 2019|