Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Book Smart shows film smarts with clever scripting and energetic visuals that take it to brassier realms than high school/coming-of-age movies usually supply. Blunting no edge, director Olivia Wilde and her team of screenwriters make Fast Times at Ridgemont High look like a slow ride as they present a southern California graduating class whose members see no limits to their futures despite all the insecurities that adolescence provides. Clocking into diversity, the movie presents a class that no parent from the 1950's television show Father Knows Best would ever recognize.
Nor do these kids fully fit the mold that often defines the genre. Instead of maintaining separate circles, the social stars and outcasts move together more than expected, and part of the story's point disrupts judgments made by appearances and behaviors. This situation gives the movie substance to go along with its often crude but frequently funny comedy. The upending starts with an atypical pairing of best friends who revel in their outcast status. As with the buddies in John Waters' Hairspray, they lack cheerleader glossiness and fashion sense, but they like to dance. To top it off, they feel superior about their good grades and the ivy league colleges that already accepted them.
But their little world gets upended, putting them amidst a crazy mix of other teenagers and discovering some startling similarities. This could go in the kind of sweet, revealing arenas so effectively generated by John Hughes and his Ferris Bueller style of Breakfast Club comedy, but director Wilde and her gang go for a much rougher edge. Graphic language, especially about sex, abounds, along with an F-bomb count that rivals the number of bodies found in John Wick movies. Yet incongruously, the story also comes off with an overall good heart. Blending negatives with the swagger, insecurities, and skyrocketing emotions of teenagers, Book Smart ends up creating a positive concoction and an ode to friendship.
This review was originally aired on 6/3/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/book-smart