By Joseph McAleer | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK – The high school romance film gets a makeover in "Booksmart" (Annapurna), and the results are not pretty.
Throwing caution – and morality – to the wind, director Olivia Wilde and no less than four screenwriters upend the traditional boy-meets-girl love story, emptying a veritable Pandora's box of unmentionables onto the big screen.
You name it, teenagers are doing it: lesbian sex, masturbation, pornography, drug use, drinking and filthy language, to name a few. This is a judgment-free zone, with a benign, "don't worry, be happy" message. As such, "Booksmart" is totally out-of-bounds for its target audience, and presents a warning to their parents.
That's regrettable, as "Booksmart" opens on a promising note. It's the day before their high school graduation, and best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are preparing for their roles as valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.
Academic overachievers, they view with disdain their fellow students who disrupt classes and are only interested in recess or the next party. They are proud to be nerds who are, indeed, "book-smart," and look forward to bright futures, Molly heading to Yale, and Amy to Columbia.
So far, so good. But then "Booksmart" takes a wrong turn at the school's unisex bathroom.
There, Molly learns from her lackadaisical peers that they, too, have been accepted to Ivy League schools. How could this possibly be, Molly wonders, when she and Amy have been the A-students, so disciplined, well-behaved and single-minded?
"Booksmart" unravels along with Molly. Enraged at missing out on four years of high school fun, Molly persuades a reluctant Amy to go on an all-night bender, taking in three wild parties where, literally, anything goes. For the duo, that means long-hoped-for sex with the guy (or girl) of their dreams.
As often the case with films of this genre, adults have no legitimacy here. Parents are clueless and daffy, and the school principal (Jason Sudekis) has no moral authority. When the sensible (or so we think) English teacher, Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams), joins the party and hooks up with her student, "Booksmart" has truly become book-dumb.
The film contains strong sexual content, including a lesbian encounter, pornographic images, skewed moral values, underage drinking, drug use, and pervasive profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.