Olivia Wilde’s raunchy yet adorable high-school comedy “Booksmart” understands a basic truth: For so many former teenage girls, your first love is your high-school best friend.
At the center of this movie are Molly (Beanie Feldstein, of “Lady Bird“) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two about-to-graduate seniors at a Los Angeles high school. Molly is the type-A class president who corrects the grammar on bathroom graffiti, describes herself as “half Slytherin, half Ravenclaw,” wears truly awful turtlenecks and worries, on the last day of school, about an orderly transition of power in student government. (Her ringtone is “Hail to the Chief.”) Amy, a big-hearted idealist who plays the autoharp and is about to spend the summer in Botswana “helping women make tampons,” has been “out for two years and never kissed a girl.” The two best friends, who went through high school studying rather than socializing, are about to spend graduation night watching a Ken Burns documentary, when a realization strikes them: Some of their hard-partying classmates got into good colleges too. Maybe it’s time to see how the other half lives?
And off we go, on an epic evening of adventure for Molly and Amy. Their goal is the find the A-list graduation party — the one thrown by the very cool class vice president Nick (Mason Gooding), on whom Molly nurtures a secret crush. But they don’t know the address, so a few side trips ensue: a lonely rich-kid party thrown on a yacht; a performance-art gathering presented by the drama club; a Lyft ride whose driver turns out to be someone they know all too well. Upon finally arriving at the party (with some unexpected help from their favorite teacher, played with amused warmth by Jessica Williams), our duo takes a breath, like divers pausing on the edge of a cliff, and plunges in, hand in hand.
Though “Booksmart” is populated, as all good high-school comedies are, by a funny cast of supporting characters (I especially liked Billie Lourd’s eccentric rich girl, and Victoria Ruesga as Amy’s goofy skater-girl love interest), Wilde understands that this movie is about the pair at its center. And from the moment we first meet Molly and Amy — heading off to the last day of school, and so excited to see each other that an impromptu little dance breaks out — we know that these two booksmart nerds have found a home in each other. They may, and they will, love others: the emptied-out, heartbreakingly sweet look of adoration that Molly gives to Nick is a movie in itself. But Feldstein and Dever, over the course of that long night, make us fall a little bit in love with their friendship; these two, at least so far, are each other’s great love.
★★★½ “Booksmart,” with Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Mason Gooding, Billie Lourd, Jason Sudekis. Directed by Olivia Wilde, from a screenplay by Katie Silverman, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Susanna Fogel. 102 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking — all involving teens. Multiple theaters.