Updated: Sep 20, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). (2) The "in crowd" at the girls high school.
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for strong sexual content and profanity throughout, drug use and drinking involving teens; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Commentary with first-time director Olivia Wilde
OLIVIA WILDE, 35, has spent years in front of the camera, first acting in TV series’ “The O.C.” and “House,” then movies. Over those 15-plus years on production sets, she's learned how to become a filmmaker. Her directing debut is an unusual teenage buddy comedy with a positive message and its heart in the right place. She calls it a “love letter” to the movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s (“Say Anything,” The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Clueless”) that sharped her youth.
The screenplay, co-written by Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman and Emily Halpern, tells the story of two best friends. On the verge of graduating from a Los Angeles high school, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein, younger sister of Jonah Hill) have been accepted to Yale and Columbia. They’ve been ultra-serious students throughout high school and almost deliberately unpopular. They rationalized their lack of social life as a path to their lofty career goals. To her horror, Molly discovers that a few of her hardest partying classmates were also accepted into Ivy League universities, and she has an epiphany: She and Amy must make up for lost time – and spend what little of it they have left to let loose, go to a big wild party, and experience all the things they’ve been denying themselves.
What follows is a physical and emotional odyssey that leads Molly and Amy to important revelations about themselves and their classmates. What’s refreshing about “Booksmart” is that the lead actresses aren’t the usual Hollywood types. The rest of the cast is widely diverse, with just about every minority represented – and not making a big deal about it. The ultimate message of “Booksmart” is about acceptance and the consequences of misjudging people by their appearance.
(1) Molly and Amy greet each other with a little break-dancing before school. (2 & 3) The girls stop by Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) office. (4) The girls try to avoid some rowdy senior-itis.
Where the film fails is in its use of predictable and clichéd situations, sight gags, and not especially funny dialogue. The hilarious exception is an ingenious animated sequence in which Beanie and Amy accidentally take LSD (or some other hallucinogen) and share a delusion that they’ve become Barbie dolls. Cameos in the film are provided by Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jessica Williams and Michael Patrick O’Brien.
Critics seemingly loved it, giving a rating of 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes; audiences and viewers were a little less enthusiastic landing just below 80 percent.
20th Century Fox continues its trend to push lesser films with a smaller audience exclusively onto 4K digital, bypassing the Ultra HD format on a physical disc. You can still pick it up on Blu-ray, which holds up quite well. Wilde and cinematographer Jason McCormick used digital cameras mounted with anamorphic lens (2.39:1 aspect ratio) to capture the warm and cool colors, framed mostly in a wide-angle perspective within the school and party scenes. A beautifully photographed underwater scene explores Amy’s view of sexuality and freedom.
No information was provided on its mastered resolution, but it appears to be 2K. While the HDR toning is slightly darker and natural, the colors are rich and saturated especially during nighttime scenes.
The Blu-ray includes the uncompressed six-channel DTS-HD, while the digital is output via compressed Dolby soundtrack. The bass response resonates throughout its soundtrack with a score from Dan The Automator, aka Daniel Nakamura, who incorporates funky hip-hop and sampling of “Broke a Couple of Rules.” He also uses strings, synth, and acoustics for “Amy Molly Fight” and “Ryan.” There are plenty of hot beats with Run the Jewels’ “Nobody Speak”; CeeLo Green, Theophilus London & Alex Ebert’s “To Whom It May Concern”; Discovery’s “Can You Discover?”; Lizzo’s “Boys,” and a karaoke scene featuring Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” No worries, the dialogue never gets lost within the music.
(1) Tomboy skate-boarder Ryan (Victoria Ruesga). (2) Jared (Skyler Gisondo), a super-rich, super-clueless classmate. (3) Jared's kooky best buddy, Gigi (Billie Lourd), who manages to show up everywhere.
The disc and digital provide a brief making-of documentary; a featurette about a fantasy dance sequence between Feldstein and Mason Gooding; another about the costumes; three deleted or extended scenes; and a still-photo gallery.
Wilde’s commentary, when she isn’t describing the action too much, or over-using adjectives (“incredible!” “amazing!” “iconic!” – get the woman a thesaurus!), is quite enjoyable. She describes “Booksmart” as “a story about people learning to see each other,” and the love between two best friends. She says she wanted the audience to initially “misjudge” characters in the same way Molly and Amy do.
Wilde reveals that Maya Rudolph’s voice is used in voice-over for an inspirational recording at the beginning of the film. Wilde notes instances of improvisation, such as when Kudrow and Forte, who play Amy’s parents, give graduation puns to the snacks they’ve prepared for the girls. For the main party scene, Wilde had the actors make iPhone movies of themselves, to be edited into the final cut. As inspirations for particular moments in the film, Wilde names the Coen brothers; “Clueless”; the “Blues Brothers”; and 1940s Hollywood musicals.
For the wonderful “Barbie trip” sequence, Wilde engaged animation studio ShadowMachine, out of Portland, Oregon. The idea for it sprang out of coming up with the “worst possible bad trip for two feminist intellectual girls” – to be transformed into Barbies – and “to make things worse, one of them started liking it.”
Wilde talks a lot about the score by Daniel Nakamura, and his use of mostly current rock and hip-hop tunes, ending with Lykke Li’s version of “Unchained Melody” because after all, she says, “this is a love story.”
— Peggy Earle
(1) Amy's parents (Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow), trying to tempt the girls with graduation-themed snacks. (2 & 3) The girls call an Uber to get them to the big party, and discover Principal Brown, moonlighting. He drives them to the wrong party, a drama-thon hosted by George (Noah Galvin) and Alan (Austin Crute). (4) After inadvertently ingesting LSD at the party, the girls hallucinate that they've become Barbie dolls. (5) Finally arriving at the 'REAL' party, Molly fantasizes a romantic dance with Nick (Mason Gooding). (6) Amy goes for what she'd hoped would be an intimate swim with Ryan, but finds out she was totally misguided. (7) Heartbroken, Amy takes cover in the bathroom, encounters Hope (Diana Silvers), and the evening takes a surprising turn.
(1) Molly gets a desperate call from Amy. (2) Amy had deliberately gotten herself arrested, and became a hero in the process. (3) The girls race to make their graduation. (4) George and Alan in the audience. (5) Molly making her valedictory speech -- with some company.
The besties saying goodbye at the airport, as Amy prepares to fly to Africa.