rose in reel life: booksmart

I veer away from fretting and complaining today to bring you a special feature I’ll call “Rose in Reel Life,” an occasional post on current movies.

Today’s spotlight is on Booksmart.

booksmart

What would you do if you found out the high school classmates you thought were screw-ups ended up achieving as much as you did by working yourself nearly to death? You’d probably join them, right? That’s the premise, anyhow, of the Olivia Wilde-directed film Booksmart, starring Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) and Kaitlyn Dever (Last Man Standing).

Throughout high school, Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) felt justified in working hard and getting top grades and accolades. Molly, class president, finds herself headed to Yale, while Amy prepares for a humanitarian trip to Africa before starting school at Columbia in the fall. They didn’t party one bit, and it shows. But after an unfortunate incident in the co-ed school restroom (is that a thing?), When Molly confronts her classmates, lording it over them what her stellar achievements gained her and what their foolhardy ways got them, she’s shocked to learn that they too are enrolled in prestigious schools or heading straight into interesting careers.

Humiliated and frustrated, Molly and Amy swear to not be outdone by their classmates this time either, and they decide to make up for all the good-girl behavior of the past four years by whooping it up at a blow-out party. Several mishaps along the way (some running too long, distracting from the story, I think) finally lead the pair to the mother of all parties. Mayhem ensues, of course, which leads to a falling out between Molly and Amy. At the fear of sounding like a Scholastic Book Club summary: Could this be the end of their friendship?

Overall, I enjoyed the film’s wit and cynicism, but I like a movie with real-life scenarios to be like real life and not a fantasy, where all the adults are either invisible (we only meet one set of parents) or are daffy and only featured to aid and abet the teens.

There are several inconceivable outcomes to some of the scenarios too, especially when the police show up at the party, leading to one teen’s arrest and its aftermath. There are of course some funny lines, but the dialogue is too sharp and clever for even Columbia- or Yale-bound kids to speak. The language is over the top and pretty raunchy overall, too, as are a few of the scenes, including one involving two teens in a bathroom becoming intimate. (However, it’s somewhat refreshing to realize four-letter words and overt sexuality have become so commonplace as to be almost meaningless.)

I’d give Booksmart a 7.5 out of 10. My score would have been higher had the teens acted more like vulnerable seventeen-year-olds and less like crude adults. After all, some of the self-realization they experience would more likely not have hit them until their thirtieth high school reunion.

Other movies on DVD or streaming to consider:

Lady Bird (R, 2018)—10/10: smart, funny, wise, believable, and just edgy enough.     lady bird

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (PG-13, 2015)—10/10: One of the most raw and creative films starring teens I’ve ever seen. me and earl

The Way, Way Back (PG-13, 2013)—9/10: Awkward moments of a young man during a summer of growing up. way way


What’s your take?

if you don’t see yourself in lady bird, you never were an american teenager…or her parent

lady bird and marion

                                  Lady Bird  (Saoirse Ronan) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf) 
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is impetuous, impressed by popularity, self-absorbed, and at times mean-spirited. In other words, she’s a typical modern-day American teen. If you don’t see yourself in Lady Bird, the nominal character in the Greta Gerwig-written and -directed movie, you may see yourself in her good-girl best friend Julie, or in mean-girl and popular Jenna, or pessimistic but privileged Kyle, or secretly gay Danny,  or as her parents…or all of the above. Because what Lady Girl doesn’t do is  people. What it does do–and wonderfully so–is take a pretty ordinary girl and view her struggles in her world and her family’s world and her school and give an accurate encapsulation of what life is like in these United States, circa the early 2000s, though it could be anytime in America.

When I was in school, I wasn’t a Lady Bird. I was a Julie, the nice girl, who’s a good student, well-behaved and shy, and not at all worldly. I was the sidekick. If Lady Bird characterized herself as living “on the wrong side of the tracks,” Julie lived even farther from the tracks as her friend and, unlike Lady Bird, who felt the world owed her something, Julie chose to accept the world, as unfair as it can be at times, and live within the boundaries set by it. Julie was a much better student than Lady Bird, but Julie ends up at the local community college, while Lady Bird sets her sights on an upper-scale East Coast liberal arts school.

As much as I can relate to Julie, the character I see myself as today, however, isn’t either of the two girls; it’s Lady Bird’s mother, Marion McPherson. I am not sure there’s been a character in any movie I’ve ever seen who doesn’t resemble me more because she resembles many moms. And what’s really interesting is that my elder daughter, who was coming of age at about the same time as Lady Bird is in the movie, told me that she saw herself in Lady Bird and, equally so, me in Marion, whose name, by the way, I had to look up on IMDb because in the movie it’s rarely, if ever, spoken. Why? Presumably because Marion is above all else “Mom.”

Marion is the hardworking, loyal, and at-times angry and put-upon Everymom, handling double shifts to pick up the slack while her husband loses his job and the family struggles financially. She lives in a basic, boring, circa 1970s-furnished house, but has a hobby of checking out open houses just to ooh and aah at the beautiful homes that are within driving distance but still way out of reach for her. Teens, including Lady Bird, sometimes feel (maybe oftentimes feel?) as though their parents’ world–where they live, what they drive–is what it is because that’s who they are, that’s how they want it to be, that’s what they made it, not realizing that dreams become deferred and desires are put on hold when raising a family. Think back to your teenage-hood and tell me you didn’t feel that way about your parents, that they just didn’t get it. Now come into the modern world and tell me everything is exactly as you always wanted it to be. See? This movie hits a cord.

I love Marion. I am Marion, the martyr Marion who comes home from a double shift in the morning and slaves away to make her family a decent breakfast only to be told the eggs are too runny; the frank Marion who is honest with her daughter, letting her know that of course she deserves to have her (selfish) dreams, but at the same time should be more aware of her family’s circumstances; the victimized Marion who sends her daughter to a pricey Catholic school because the local public school is unsafe only to have her daughter pull a stunt that gets her expelled for a few days; the misunderstood Marion who has a good heart (we see it many times) but comes off as the bad guy and in a constant struggle to keep the family afloat.

This movie is not heavy-handed at all and it doesn’t dumb down. There aren’t good guys versus bad guys because there’s a little good and bad in all of us.