Olivia Wilde's directorial debut "Booksmart" impressed me for a number of reasons—the great performances from Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, the niche "woke" humor, that annoying yet endearing kid from "Santa Clarita Diet"—but, most of all, its near uncanny ability to convey my feelings towards my high school years.
In the film, best friends Molly and Amy are suddenly confronted by the fact that the peers they had written off as know-nothing underachievers for the last four years are heading off to the same prestigious schools that they worked to get into with nun-like devotion. Terrified that they may have missed out on four years of high school debauchery for nothing, they embark on an epic one-night quest to get to the best house party in town and make up for lost time.
The message of the film is ultimately that people are three-dimensional beings and that there is more to them than what initially meets the eye. The kids who party can still be smart, the 'mean' girls can be love interests or new friends, and (spoiler alert!) the seemingly helpful pizza delivery guy can be a serial killer. And that's a fantastic message to send, especially in a film that feels so uniquely suited to the Gen-Z experience. Yet I couldn't help the surge of anxiety the film's inciting incident gave me. After I walked out of the theater, I kept thinking, 'What would I have done if I found out that all my hard work in high school had been unnecessary?'
As of my writing this, my own high school graduation was less than twenty-four hours ago, which means I'm in that rose-colored-glasses phase in which I wistfully look back on all the great memories I made in a building I was dying to get out of a week ago. Unlike Molly and Amy, I like to think I had fun in high school. I made some great friends, life-long memories, and what were in retrospect probably some pretty poor choices. But, like many a Type A overachiever (and like Beanie Feldstein's Molly in particular), high school was always a step on a much longer path, a pit stop I just had to muscle through. It wasn't 'real' so much as a test run for a future I couldn't wait to get to.
This mentality is kind of problematic, yes, but it also was the motivator that got me to work so hard for what I wanted. My choice of colleges was somewhat unusual for my school; most people went to public in-state universities or community colleges. These are great paths, both academically and financially, but they weren't what I wanted. Anything else, however, was financially out-of-reach for me. I wasn't an athlete and my part-time job at Wendy's wasn't going to pay the difference, so my only option, if I wanted to go out of state, was through an academic scholarship.
My entire outlook on high school was shaped by the knowledge that I needed those four years to secure a spot for my next four. And if that kept me from having as much fun in high school as I would have otherwise, then I was okay with that trade-off. But who would I be now if I had done it differently? What interests of mine would I have discovered? What different people would I have met? I definitely wouldn't be going to Fordham, but where would I be?
"What if?" is a central question of "Booksmart," and it's one that has bugged me since I saw it. At the film's climatic house party, where both girls momentarily blend smoothly into their peers' social dynamic, the viewer gets a sense of what things may have been like for Molly and Amy if they hadn't been so isolated. Importantly, however, it never feels like Wilde is advocating for them to regret their path. When Molly gets a ride home from a girl she had previously despised, she realizes that, at Yale next year, they have a chance to be the friends they never were prior. Similarly, Amy recovers from a humiliating incident at the party with relative ease and sets herself up for a future relationship. Wilde's point, therefore, is that you should move on confidently with your life but never forget the lessons you learned along the way. It's a reassuring message, especially for a fellow Class of 2019-er like me. So, did I have as much fun as I could have had in high school? Maybe not. But do I regret it? Nope. I have the next four years at my disposal.