When Olivia Wilde went in to pitch herself to Annapurna to direct Booksmart, she didn’t refer to other teenage movies of yore, i..e the John Hughes or Amy Heckerling canon, rather the Denzel Washington LA noir Training Day.
The reference spoke to the intensity she aimed to incorporate in what could be seen on its cover as a female Superbad. Booksmart follows two female academic achievers, Amy and Molly (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) who on their last night before high school graduation realize that their best days as teenagers has passed them by. Meanwhile their peers and rivals, who’ve partied on, have also gotten into platinum colleges — or even going to work for Google. So, Amy and Molly embark on a night of excess, en route to a party where Beanie will find her guy, and Molly her girl.
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“I wanted to acknowledge the high stakes of the adolescent experience and the emotional roller coaster,” said Wilde at today’s Deadline Contenders NY, “we create bonds in adolescence which allows us to survive. Every experience is heightened; every failure, every heartbreak is so extreme.”
The aim was to create a teenage comedy sans any kind of patronizing which has dogged the sub-genre.
Also important for Wilde was to make a teenage movie that, natch, speaks to current teens, hence there was an importance placed on being inclusive with the pic’s protagonists.
“This generation has evolved,” said Wilde praising teens today, “they’re shifting the paradigm. They want different politicians, they want labels or no labels.”
While the original script of Booksmart sat on the Black List for some time, it was Wilde’s new writing partner Katie Silberman who was able to bring another dimension to the teenage comedy; the dilemma that these two nerds aren’t the only smartest ones in the room. The party hardy folk are equally as ambitious and brilliant. “I wanted to infuse the film with the conversation about judgement and empathy; feeling seen and not seen in others,” explains Wilde.
Dever and Feldstein in preparing for the film spent as much time offset as possible. Feldstein found inspiration for her intense character in such teen icons as Lisa Simpson and Paris Geller on The Gilmore Girls.
Says Wilde, “The whole movie is about their love for each other.”