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Through it all we root for Mario-as-Melvin, who makes a good, likeable hero. —Marty Mapes (review...)

Mario, Melvin, or Sweetback, he's one Baadasssss

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Booksmart is a funny, agreeably subversive, fairly radical and wildly inventive directorial debut from Olivia Wilde.

Back to School

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein)
Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein)

Think of it as a sort of zeitgeist movie. Booksmart captures the essence of the modern high school experience; not the campus lockdowns and school shootings that have plagued the headlines, but the ever-escalating madness of the overall teenage experience.

It’s a world in which Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, TV’s Last Man Standing), a high-school senior, talks about the differences between gender performance and sexual orientation — and Amy, by the way, came out in the 10th grade. Meanwhile, her best friend, Molly (Beanie Feldstein, Lady Bird), overhears other students talking about her attire and demeanor (they’re like she’s a 40-year-old) while she’s in the co-ed restroom. Amy and Molly — whose sole effort at troublemaking during their high school careers was to sport fake college IDs, solely to gain access to UCLA’s library — demurely refuse to discuss the colleges they’re going to out of consideration for their less-intelligent and highly irresponsible classmates.

Turns out, though, while Amy’s headed to Columbia (after taking a gap year in Botswana making tampons to help the local ladies) and Molly’s going to Yale, all those party rats are also pretty well set. One’s skipping college and going straight to Google to pull down a mid-six-figure salary. Another’s going to Stanford. One girl, who’s “serviced” guys to the point she’s been nicknamed Triple A (Molly Gordon, Life of the Party), is also going to Yale.

Yikes. All that hard work to differentiate themselves while other kids had fun in high school and got to move on to prestigious universities? That ain’t right!

It Happened One Night

So it is Amy and Molly set out on a mission to have some fun on the last night of high school. They’re going to party — hard — at a house party with all the popular kids. There’s just one problem: they don’t know the address, they only know it’s at Nick’s aunt’s house.

And to think their original plan was to stay home and watch Ken Burns’ series on the Dust Bowl.

In classic last night episodic fashion, the two girls make their way to the destination party by way of some wild detours. The first is a boat party held by Jared (Skyler Gisondo, The Amazing Spider-Man), a seemingly popular, over-the-top kid. There are one or two unsavory rumors surrounding his life of luxury, but the reality is nobody’s at his party — until Amy and Molly arrive. Because he brought them. Well, Gigi (Billie Lourd, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) is also there. But she’s everywhere; her omnipresence figures in as a very funny running joke throughout the movie.

After that mini-nightmare, the two find themselves in a bizarre murder mystery dinner party hosted by George (Noah Galvin, Assassination Nation). At least there are more familiar faces at this one, including Gigi. But things go off the rails when drugs they unknowingly consumed on the boat finally kick in.

That’s when Booksmart gives Welcome to Marwen a run for its money with a colorful animated sequence involving Barbie doll-like versions of Amy and Molly marveling at their ridiculously unrealistic (plastic) body types.

Finally, when the duo actually manages to make it to the “big show” — after a couple more obstacles are overcome — it’s not the panacea of awesomeness they expected. Sure, Gigi’s there. But things go south for both girls as their romantic aspirations fall apart, leading to a meltdown right in the thick of the party.

Sigh. High school sucks. Always has. Always will.

Fast Times at Modern High

Think about some of the classic high school comedies that have stood the test of time over the years. There’s American Graffiti, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Weird Science and Superbad — just to name a few. Booksmart is sure to join their ranks. And, just as those earlier movies helped launch the careers of Harrison Ford, Matthew Broderick, Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr. and Jonah Hill (Beanie’s real-life big brother), Booksmart’s likely to elevate this cast in a similar fashion.

“Elevate” is a good term — as fresh as those faces seem on screen, they’ve already accumulated healthy resumes.

But for all the talent onscreen, there’s notable activity behind the camera as well. For starters, this is Olivia Wilde’s feature film debut as director. She’s got this. Not a surprise. Looking forward to more.

And the end credits brandish the ReFrame stamp, certifying the movie as a Gender Balanced Production. It’s also co-produced by Gloria Sanchez Productions, the female version of Gary Sanchez Productions — both shingles of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production empire.

From a certain point of view, the onscreen antics coming out of all this behind-the-scenes creativity both revere and gently poke fun at the wacky, liberal world of today’s society. But, at the same time, the heart of the movie is in a message that ultimately usurps Molly’s radical commencement address that attempts to put straight white guys in their place (and flies in the face of the fact she has romantic interests in straight white guys).

No. It’s less controversial and more practical — especially if true equality is the sincere goal. Through all the madness of the night before, Molly and Amy finally come to realize as they get to know each kid better while bouncing from one looney party to the next, they’re not so bad. And all those rumors filling the school halls simply aren’t true — or at least the reality isn’t as bad as it sounds coming through the grapevine.