All the hype you may have heard about Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is entirely justified. It’s more than just “Superbad for girls”; it’s a smart, funny, genuine, modern comedy about friendship, crushes, and navigating that in-between time when you’re done with high school but not at college yet.
Best friends Molly (the luminescent Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (the revelatory Kaitlyn Dever) are type-A grinders who’ve devoted their entire high school careers to academic-related pursuits. They focused on studying and schoolwork and eschewed parties, looking down on the kids who dabbled in drink and drugs on the assumption that they didn’t care about success and were destined for (shudder) state colleges at best. Now they’re about to graduate high school and head off to prestigious colleges, secure in their belief that they’ve achieved a higher degree of success than their peers.
When Molly learns that the kids she derided and looked down upon are also going to top colleges and that they managed to earn good grades while still making time for social pursuits, she realizes that she and Amy have missed out on a key part of the high school experience for no reason. With that knowledge the two set out, on the final night of high school, to finally indulge in pure, simple, teenage fun and cram four years of missing out into one wild night.
One of many things I loved about this movie is that the plot doesn’t hinge on Molly and Amy trying to crash the “cool kids” party. They’ve been invited. Their social ostracization is self-imposed; there’s no bullying, no social hierarchy – they’re welcomed at the epic end-of-year bash. Their fellow grads are surprised to see them there, but glad they showed up, finally. It reminded me of the end-of-year party in Say Anything, when Diane Court (Ione Skye), the type-A grade grind, goes to her first party before graduating and finds that everyone there is glad to see her out from behind her books.
It’s a solid opposite of The Breakfast Club-style teen comedies. Rather than reducing the characters to types, the film smartly resists slotting the kids into the expected stereotypes. Molly is driven, but also knows how to cut loose and have fun; she flirts with the popular guy with ease, gently negging him over a game of beer pong. The promiscuous girl is also sweet and smart, and refuses to be slut-shamed. The handsome popular dude hosting the party is charming and nice and not even a shade of the usual conceited jock. Overall, the message is that smart and fun are not opposites; everyone is both.
The film feels modern in a truer sense than any other teen comedy, in that in a high school in a large urban centre (here, L.A.), there’s more than just one gay kid, and none of it is a big deal. Besides George and Alan the performative theatre queens, Amy is an out lesbian, and is crushing hard on a skater girl named Ryan. The tension around sexuality comes not from being closeted but from not knowing the other person’s deal; having to wrestle not just with the question “do they like me” but “are they even into my gender in that way”.
Early on, there’s also a very smart conversation between Molly and Amy about the difference between gender performance and sexuality. Molly is pushing Amy to ask Ryan out, and seems to be assuming she’s also gay because she has a loose and casual style of dress; but as Amy points out to Molly, just because a girl wear board shorts and Converse doesn’t mean she’s into other girls. (And, later in the film, it turns out that the girl who is into Amy is the one she’d pegged as a generic high school hetero hottie.)
I must give snaps to the casting by Alison Jones (Freaks & Geeks, Superbad, Eighth Grade, Lady Bird, so much more). If you look at her resume, she’s obviously a genius at putting together casts with remarkable chemistry, and this movie is her masterwork. By casting largely relatively unknown actors, the performances feel naturalistic, and the kids look like real high school students. Not only is it a perfect chemical mix, it’s also refreshing to see a mix of body types and faces instead of the typical California-model-gorgeous cast.
I loved this movie and I can’t wait to see it again and again. I highly recommend it, with the caveat that it might be suitable more for viewing with older teens; there’s no nudity, but there is sexuality and drug use depicted. That said, it’s delightful, the representation of queer sexuality feels real, and while it might not be quote-unquote family viewing it’s well worth a watch. See it!