Photo: Annapurna Pictures

It seems that we are living in a golden age of female-led coming-of-age comedies. Lady Bird and The Edge Of Seventeen announced their directors as filmmakers to watch, while Blockers put the lie to the idea that it’s impossible to be both sensitive to changing social mores and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time. Annapurna’s new comedy Booksmart accomplishes both of these feats, launching a new chapter in director Olivia Wilde’s career while redefining the “one crazy night” teen movie for Generation Z. The film is predicated on upending stereotypes about both popular and unpopular high school kids, and makes a point of establishing sympathy with even its most cartoonish characters. But this isn’t a group therapy session: Sex, drugs, booze, mean girls, and earth-shattering betrayals all still come into the equation. It’s just that in 2019, the kids running off into the suburban night trying to avoid getting busted for underage drinking self-identify as intersectional feminists.

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Booksmart also does an excellent job of depicting the weird, intense bonds that form between unpopular teenage girls—in this case, honor roll students Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein). Amy and Molly have spent their teen years sucking up to their teachers, making feminist protest art—a sign on the door to Amy’s room reads, “A Room Of One’s Own”—and watching Ken Burns documentaries together. The most rebellious thing they’ve ever done is sneak into the UCLA library after hours. Outspoken RBG wannabe Molly already has Amy’s and her entire life trajectories planned out, a dynamic that the shy, passive Amy seems to enjoy, or at least accept.

But then Molly, in typical overachiever fashion, declares that she and Amy are going to cram four years’ worth of partying into one night. This is after Molly finds out that some less driven classmates also got into good colleges, even though they’ve wasted their youths crushing beer cans against their thick skulls. (At least, this is how Molly sees it.) Humiliated by the concept, Molly insists that she and Amy need at least one wild story to take with them to college so no one knows what losers they were in high school. So over Amy’s objections, the two don matching jumpsuits, lie to Amy’s indulgent parents about where they’re going, and head out to the biggest graduation party in town. The problem is that they don’t have the address, and no one is texting them back.

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Photo: Annapurna Pictures

Comparing Booksmart to Superbad seems unfair to Feldstein, who’s such a potent force that one almost hates to evoke her more famous (for now) older brother Jonah Hill. But there are enough parallels between the films, both plot-wise and in their emotional trajectories, to deem the comparison worth making anyway. And make no mistake: Feldstein is a brilliant comedic performer whose expressive face and explosive energy have the power to make any scene funnier. Dever gives a quieter, but equally expressive, performance, before taking the spotlight in the film’s comedic centerpiece: a cringingly awkward sex scene where Amy, who came out as a lesbian in 10th grade but has never kissed a girl, fumblingly attempts to navigate someone else’s genitalia for the first time.

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Both Dever and Feldstein have star quality by the bucketful, and the believable best-friend chemistry between the duo would sustain Booksmart all on its own. Luckily, however, the supporting cast is equally capable. Billie Lourd is so funny as space cadet Gigi that her mere presence is enough to induce giggles; same for Noah Galvin as George, the exacting ringleader of the school’s theater-kid contingent. That being said, all of the supporting characters are portrayed with great affection and surprising depth. Even Nick (Mason Gooding) and Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), whose jobs are basically to stand there and be dreamy as Molly and Amy’s respective crushes, reveal new layers as the story unfolds.

As for the adults, Wilde’s real-life partner, Jason Sudeikis, exudes pure dad energy as a school principal who moonlights as a Lyft driver—“Is that Cardi B?” he earnestly asks after an aux-cord mishap puts porn audio onto his car stereo—and Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow are adorable in their cameos as Amy’s parents. But Jessica Williams, who plays hip teacher Miss Fine, has a one-liner that’s one of the funniest in the movie simply for the confident way she delivers it: “I’m a single woman living in Los Angeles. I have a lot of shit in this car.”

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Photo: Annapurna Pictures

That particular observation is typical of Booksmart’s script, which comes jam-packed with quotable one-liners from screenwriter Katie Silberman, who also penned the recent rom-coms Set It Up and Isn’t It Romantic. As a director, Wilde shows impressive control for a first-timer, with an intuitive sense of when to hang back and when to sprinkle a little stylistic flair onto a scene. (Or a lot, in the case of a stop-motion animated sequence where Molly and Amy hallucinate that they’ve turned into Barbie dolls.) And while the frequent musical cues can be just a little blaring, Wilde’s lighting and camera movements in particular are more inspired than in your average American comedy.

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Since public high schools became an entrenched part of American life in the early-to-mid-20th century, certain things have remained the same. The classrooms, the pecking orders, the passing of the torch from one class to the next. What good high school movies do is take the basics of the teenage condition and refocus them for a specific generation’s point of view. That’s where Booksmart excels. It’s a high school movie that doesn’t have sadistic bullies shoving helpless nerds into lockers, just a bunch of kids that, for all their flaws, are kind, funny, worldly, whip-smart—name one other teen comedy that has a Queen Noor Of Jordan joke—and unapologetically themselves.