If They Could Go Back, Would The Stars of Booksmart Do High School Differently?

FLARE sat down with Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever to find out

Booksmart: Two teenagers wearing graduation gown and cap screaming as they're driving.
(Photo: Entertainment One)

Coming-of-age movies—and especially their totally tired high school tropes—are *finally* changing. Booksmart is now playing in theatres and it’s not what you expect from a typical teen comedy. Think: Superbad, but make it femme.

On Saturday, May 25, director Olivia Wilde encouraged her 1.77 million Twitter followers to get out and see Booksmart, not just because of the coming-of-age comedy’s rave reviews (it currently has 97% on Rotten Tomatoes), but because of the barriers that this film breaks for women behind and in front of the camera.

“Anyone out there saving @Booksmart for another day, consider making that day TODAY. We are getting creamed by the big dogs out there and need your support. Don’t give studios an excuse not to green-light movies made by and about women,” she said.

With Booksmart, Wilde and her all-female team of writers (Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman) gave audiences something most teen movies don’t: two female leads. The movie stars Beanie Feldstein, 25,  as Molly and Kaitlyn Dever, 22, as Amy, grade 12 students about to graduate from high school. After spending years working their butts off to get into prestigious universities, these overachieving BFFs realize they missed out on partying. In an attempt to compensate for lost time, they decide to make the most of their final night as high schooler students—and in the process, they learn about love, friendship and identity.

“Basically, Booksmart is a relationship movie, set in a high school environment that reflects just how high the stakes truly are during that period of our lives,” says Wilde in a press release.

Despite Wilde’s May 25 tweet, Booksmart didn’t bring in big numbers on its opening weekend (it was sixth at the box office on opening weekend, making $6.5 million. Aladdin was the number one film with a casual $86.1 million). Still, audiences are rooting for the film.

“I think that to have two young, brilliant, unapologetically smart women at the centre of comedy is… revolutionary,” says Feldstein. Here’s what they had to say about making the movie and its enduring message to young viewers:

How did having a female director and all-female writing staff change things on set?

Feldstein: Booksmart is celebrating the humour that women I see in my life have, or possess or execute. It’s celebrating a humour that is rooted in intelligence and rooted in love.

Most of the time, in comedy specifically, if women are even in them, it’s to be a kind prop. So [there’s] the nagging wife or the overbearing mom, or all of these archetypes. Or, if women are at the centre of it, they’re “down with the boys” and “just cool, and chat like the dudes,” and it’s like, no, we have our own unique brand of comedy. And that’s a beautiful thing… There are other women that speak a little more differently, and their humour comes from a different place and it’s rooted in a different way. And so, I think having Olivia [Wilde] and Katie [Silberman] just wanting to craft that and celebrate that, and execute it in such a loving light was so special.

In what ways did you relate to your character?

Dever: I feel like I’m constantly, in my real life, getting embarrassed. Or, just the anxiety of being young is so relatable. It’s so hard being young sometimes and feeling scared, and you know, scared to talk to your crush that you had a crush on forever. That’s so universally relatable. It doesn’t matter what social group you were in in high school, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what gender you are, or anything, or how you identify. I relate it to the high stakes of being young, because everything matters when you’re young. That’s what I related to, the pressure.

Feldstein: For me it was the friendship, the space between Molly and Amy, and the love that they have for one another is so emblematic of my friends now who were my friends in high school. And, just to see that on screen in a way that lets them just be loose and funny, and completely themselves. That was so fun, and it’s so important for me, too. I felt like this movie was going to be so important for so many young people. It was so amazing, and that I definitely related to [it] because I had my ride or dies from high school.

What’s your advice to high schoolers about studying versus partying?

Feldstein: I think the film is so beautiful because it doesn’t just do it that way. It doesn’t just [go] from smart to fun. It also shows how many people were fun and smart. Every person is given the room and the space in the story to show all of their humanity, not just one side of them. I’m sure whoever’s in the library is also deeply fun. They just maybe consider fun things… different than going out or whatever. But, I think it’s such a beautiful thing to get to know everyone around you. So, I would say, I think the reason to go out is to just open yourself up to people you might not be able to get to know if you stay within your own lane. Cherish the people in your lane, but then also open yourself up.

Is there anything you would do differently in high school?

Dever: I think, if I had a Booksmart, I would have totally judged people a little less. You know, I would’ve communicated with people more… But, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I think that’s another message about Booksmart, is that you don’t have to have any regrets. The college you get into does not define who you are. If you don’t go to college, that does not define who you are. There’s so much time for school. You can go to school when you’re 40, it doesn’t matter… If I was talking to myself, I would just tell myself to be a little less worried about that decision that you’re going to make that you think is going to be so monumental on your life when it’s really, really not.

Feldstein: If I had had Booksmart, I think I would have been given the tools to contextualize my friendships that I was having, and have an example of how friends fight in such a meaningful way. I think the fight and the reconciliation, and the love between these two girls is so important for young people to see because I don’t feel like I ever had that for my age group. I can think of friends fighting in movies but not necessarily for that age group [or] in such a meaningful, palpable way… And so, you see these girls and you don’t want them to go through the film without fighting because that’s important for them to have that experience and understand how to have those conversations with one another. But, then also to come out of it and still be best friends. I feel like I would have been so excited to see a way for me to situate myself within the context of what was going on.

What did that “fight scene” help you realize about female best-friendships?

Dever: I will just say, really quickly, that I learned about codependency in that fight, because you know, Molly and Amy have done literally everything together. And, I had that best friend in high school growing up and we did everything together. Then one day, my best friend just moved away and I had to deal with that. It was so hard for me. I couldn’t understand why she left, and it broke me… When Amy calls ‘Malala’ and Molly says ‘no’ for the first time, that’s like really, really intense and that’s a very heartbreaking moment. And, it’s realizing like, oh, she’s a different person and I’m a different person and we’re not always going to be on the same playing field. And that’s OK… You have to get through those hardships in order to come back and grow in a relationship.

Feldstein: What Olivia [Wilde] so beautifully captured, which was actually in the edit, not in the filming of it, was the moment when you don’t even like what you’re saying anymore, but you’re just committing to it because you’re so stubborn and you don’t want to give in…It’s like this palpable feeling, or it’s that I’ve been in in a fight where I’m like, I don’t even want to be having this fight. I don’t want to be talking like this. I hate what I’m saying to this person but I can’t stop it. And I thought I’d never see that on screen before. I’ve never seen that embodiment of that feeling and that thought process. And, I think [Olivia Wilde] really puts the audience through that, through that brilliant directorial choice of dimming the audio out. That would it have been helpful for me a few times growing up to say like, you actually can stop. You don’t always have to be right. Maybe, stop and think about the words that are coming out of your mouth.

Related:

Aladdin‘s Mena Massoud Has Three Wishes for Representation in Hollywood
DeWanda Wise Dishes on the Sex Scenes in She’s Gotta Have It Season 2
What’s New on Netflix Canada in June 2019

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