Booksmart (2019) | Movie Review |

Sometimes high school students get so caught up in their studies and preparing for their future that they do not take the time to live in the moment and enjoy the final days of their youth. Booksmart follows two bookworms as they try to party and cut loose during their last day of classes a few days before graduation. The film is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut with leading ladies Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. Spoilers after the trailer.

Familiar Story

The film’s plot has been done countless times before in other movies. Two strait-laced pretentious high school students that are the outcast of their class attempt to do something radical so they can fit in with their classmates. Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are best friends who have never done anything fun because they’ve been focusing on getting into good colleges; however, it turns out that their classmates who have been partying and having fun have also got into those same colleges.

Olivia Wilde’s direction shines early on in the film. The scene when Molly finds out that her negligent peers are going to elite schools such as Yale and Stanford, the camera does a close shot on Molly’s face while allowing the world around her to keep moving. This lets the audience capture the panic on her face and is symbolic of how Molly has always been focused without realizing the world around her has kept moving. Once Molly tells her classmates that they don’t care about school, Anabelle/Triple A (Molly Gordon) lets it be known that they don’t only care about school. A nice bit of dialogue that explains the mentality of Molly and Amy versus everyone else in the class. The scene functions as social commentary that no matter what you do – someone can put in half the amount of work you do and end up in the same spot.

IMDB/Booksmart

What makes Booksmart different from similar films such as Superbad, Ladybird, mid90s and other post-2000 coming-of-age films is its unpredictability and the dynamics of the friendship between Molly and Amy. Molly is the alpha of the two, yet Amy is the one who’s more normal and doesn’t pick fights with all of their classmates. Amy being a lesbian adds a fresh twist when things don’t work out between her and her crush Ryan (Victoria Ruesga).

Wilde’s direction shines again once Amy discovers Ryan making out with Molly’s crush Nick (Mason Gooding), which causes an argument between Molly and Amy. Visually, the pair are arguing and yelling at each other but the audience doesn’t hear what they’re saying, instead the film uses its score to its advantage by adding an extra depth of emotion.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart (2019)
IMDB/Booksmart

The humor throughout the film is vulgar, raunchy and unpredictable. There is a lot going on that once you think the film is going in one direction it does a complete 180 and surprises you which is why the film feels so fresh. By the time the movie is over you want to spend more time with the characters which is always a good feeling.

A Class of Characters

Booksmart is a film filled with fun and well-written characters that make it memorable from start to finish. Since Molly and Amy act like they’re better than everyone else at their school, it’s hard to feel bad for them when all the other kids leave them out of the parties that are happening this weekend. George (Noah Galvin) and Alan (Austin Crute) are a dysfunctional couple who host a murder-mystery party that, unpredictably, transitions into a claymation scene. The claymation scene is a result of Molly and Amy eating drugged strawberries, as the pair are tripping out George, Alan and the other party guests who are puzzled by what’s going on.

IMDB/Booksmart

The students aren’t the only ones who shine in Booksmart. The movie comments on how educators need a second a job, with Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) also moonlighting as a Lyft driver. Amy and Molly are taken by surprise when they’re picked up by their principal while using Lyft. There’s an awkward moment that involves a bluetooth speaker and pornography!

Later on while searching for the location of Nick’s party, they try to hold Pat the Pizza Guy (Mike O’Brien) as a hostage until he tells them where he delivered the pizzas. This is a hilarious scene because Amy and Molly have no idea what they’re doing and Pat patronizes them. He even pulls a gun on them before making them get out of his car.

The most awkward adult to student relationship between teacher and students is between the appropriately named Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams) and her class. Ms. Fine is the young and hip teacher that her class adores because she’s cool. She gives Amy and Molly a ride to Nick’s party and she ends up partying with her graduating students. She is a surrogate big sister to Molly and Amy after giving them advice and telling them that she used to be like them in high school and did a complete 180 while in college. Oh, and she hooks up with one of her students, Theo (Eduardo Franco), who is older than most of his classmates.

Diana Silvers in Booksmart (2019)
IMDB/Booksmart

After being heartbroken, things ended on a good note for Amy as she kissed her first girl, Hope (Diana Silvers). Hope is the cruel girl who keeps to herself but when she talks people take notice. Silvers was perfectly cast because she had the right demeanor of quiet, confident and commanding.

The actress who stole the show throughout the film was Billie Lourd and her portrayal as Gigi. Every time Gigi appeared on-screen she was random and eccentric but never annoying. Gigi is the richest girl at the school and her classmates joke that she and her boyfriend Jared (Skyler Gisondo) are the one percent.

IMDB/Booksmart

Lourd does an outstanding job with this character and what she is given. She may have 10 minutes, if that much, of screen time and she made every second count. Her character was mysterious but never felt vague and she could’ve been in it more to be honest.

Final Thoughts

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is one of the best comedies that has hit the big screen so far in 2019. Booksmart is an unpredictable, raunchy comedy that has been boosted thanks to its wide range of characters. It may not have the box office success that Annapurna Pictures would like it to have, but there are going to be a lot of actors and actresses from this film that will breakout like the stars of Superbad over a decade ago. Kaitlyn Devers and Beanie Feldstein shine in their lead roles.

Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart (2019)
IMDB/Booksmart

Kaitlyn Dever and Billie Lourd especially shine the brightest in this one. This film was written and directed by women and the actresses brought their A-game to it. If this one is currently playing near you then I’d definitely recommend giving this one a viewing. If you’re interested in getting a sense of the movie before going to the theater then I have good news! Annapurna Pictures has released the first 6 minutes of the film on their Youtube:

Fin.

RATING

[Fresh Horchata]

[Fuego]

[Bueno]

[así así]

[Basura]

[All Mames Wey]

Booksmart was released in theaters May 24, 2019.

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If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) |Movie Review|

After releasing 2016’s Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins has returned with his latest film, If Beale Street Could Talk, which is based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. The runner-up for the Toronto International Film Festival’s People Choice Award, the Annapurna Pictures distributed film stars Kiki Layne and Stephan James, and is a story about how the power of love conquers all, no matter how hard things can get. The story centers around Clementine “Tish” Rivers (Kiki Layne), a young African-American woman who, with the support of her family, attempts to clear the name of her boyfriend Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) who has been falsely accused of rape before the birth of their child. This is going to be a longer review, so let’s take this journey down Beale Street. Spoilers after the trailer.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk….. yet.

If Beale Street Could Talk starts off strong. The first 30 minutes of the movie, for me, were magnetizing, and among the best of any film that was released in the year of two thousand and eighteen. Here’s a breakdown of the things that made it an impactful and memorable way to begin a film. Tish narrates in the beginning about her relationship with Fonny, and sets up the movie by letting the audience know he’s currently locked up for a rape that he did not commit. She visits Fonny in jail to tell him that she’s pregnant and that she’s going to get him out of jail so he can see the birth of his child. Tish has a powerful line in which she narrates, “I hope that nobody has to look at anybody they love through glass,” as the camera pans to her talking to Fonny through the phone in the jail visitation room. Fonny is surprised but excited to hear the news considering his current situation, and Tish lets him know she wanted to tell him before telling anyone else. The director chooses to use close-ups, which rely on the actors to stare into the camera and use facial expressions to convey different moods. It’s a romantic scene and it establishes the love these two have with each other within the first 10 minutes of the film.

Image result for beale street love behind a glassThings become more interesting when we are introduced to their families and how they react upon hearing the news of Tish’s pregnancy. Sharon Rivers (Reginia King) is Tish’s mother and she’s the first person to hear the news. The way Barry Jenkins chose to shoot the scene was a crafty misdirection. Tish is sitting on a light orange couch with green curtains in the background, and she’s wearing a green blouse with a gold skirt and is the sole focus of the shot, as she’s timidly telling her mother that she’s pregnant. Meanwhile, her mother is dressed in a dark blue shirt with orange pants on the other side of the room, but she’s in the shadows and this gives off a vibe that she’s evil, wicked or is going to be angry that her daughter has been impregnated by a man who is currently incarcerated. Surprisingly, Sharon Rivers is happy and excited to hear the news that she’s going to have a grandchild.
Related imageDuring dinner the pair tell Tish’s father and sister the good news, and the family celebrates. The color scheme of gold, orange and green from earlier is still prominent in every shot and gives the scene a unique look. Tish’s sister Ernestine Rivers (Teyonnah Parris) is wearing green and orange, and her father, Joseph Rivers (Colman Domingo) is wearing a muddy green with gray to perfect the patina. When Tish hugs her father, his side of the room is brighter and it gives the impression that brighter days are ahead for this family.

After the two embrace, Joseph wants to break the good news to his coworker, who happens to be Fonny’s father, so the family invites the Hunt family over to dinner and for me, this is where the movie peaks. The Hunts, for a better word,  are bougie, uppity, saditty… well the women of the family are. When Frank Hunt (Michael Beach) finds out that he’s about to have a grandchild he’s ready to celebrate, he even tells Joseph Rivers that they’re going to go out and get drunk tonight. On the other hand, Mrs. Hunt (Aunjanue Ellis) is not impressed. She blames Tish for her son being incarcerated. She thinks Tish isn’t good enough for Fonny and she always knew that Tish was trouble. Mrs. Hunt is a Christian woman and she brings all types of scorn and judgment onto Trish for having a child out of wedlock. The scorn from her daughters, Adrienne Hunt (Ebony Obsidian) and Sheila Hunt (Dominique Thorne), is just as strong. This conflict sets up an amazing scene of dialogue between the two wicked sisters and Tish’s sister Ernestine. Ernestine tells Adrienne and Sheila that she wants to rip the Adam’s Apple out of their throats. Mrs. Hunt takes offense and tells the Rivers family they’re going to hell for bringing this bastard child into the world, as Barry Jenkins focuses the camera on her face, out of nowhere Frank slaps the taste out of her mouth. I do not condone this behavior, yet the way this is filmed it lets the audience know the stakes are high and it gives you a deep dive into the relationship of the two families, and how they’re the complete opposite of Fonny and Tish. After the slap, Sharon Rivers tells Mrs. Hunt that that’s her grandchild she’s talking about and both of the families are going to do their best to raise the child. 30 minutes into the film and there’s effective storytelling, engaging dialogue and a plethora of spectacular shots.

Unfortunately over the next 87 minutes the film flattens out. A large reason for this is Kiki Layne’s inexperience when delivering the material she’s given. She plays the leading lady but she comes off as flat for most of the movie. It’s her first major role in a motion picture and it really shows, because she’s not giving her character any kind of emotion. There are times where she does a serviceable job, but for most of the film her performance isn’t up to par with the rest of the cast. In contrast, her co-star Stephan James does a phenomenal job with the time that he’s given on-screen. There’s an effective moment in the film where Fonny is planning a future with Tish, and he shows her how they’re going to decorate and model their future apartment together. It’s romantic, innocent and displays that the two have hope before the drastic event changes the course of their relationship. When he’s confronted at a grocery store by Officer Bell (Ed Skrein) the film builds up the tension again in an effective, yet gut-wrenching way. Even when patrons at the store stick up for Fonny, it shows how much love the rest of the city has for him.

Outside of the two main characters, the smaller characters do a superb job of bringing emotion to the big screen. Outside the first 30 minutes we did not spend much time with the rest of the Rivers and Hunt families. I do wish that we had, because of how productive the film’s opening act was.  Around the second act there’s a scene between Frank Hunt and Joseph Rivers, where the two fathers are at a bar discussing how they’re going to come up with ways to make money to ensure that Fonny is free when their grandson, Fonny’s son, is born. With the small amount of screen time that Regina King has, she shines through as Sharon Rivers. There’s a noteworthy scene between her and Fonny’s accuser Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios), where Sharon confronts her, but Victoria is too traumatized from being raped that she  doesn’t care if Fonny is innocent or not, she just wants a black man to pay for this. Victoria tells Sharon that Officer Bell told her to pick out Fonny in a lineup just so he could get his revenge from the grocery store incident.

One show stealing scene came from Brian Tyree Henry as Daniel Carty. Henry is in the film for at most 15 minutes, if that long, but his character adds to the weight of an already heavy story. Daniel Carty is a recent parolee and a close friend of Fonny. Before Fonny is locked up for a crime that he didn’t commit, Daniel tells Fonny what life was like in the slammer. If you’re familiar with Henry’s work on Atlanta then you’ll know he’s one of the best actors when it comes to giving his characters nuances. While Daniel Carty is recollecting his memories from being in jail, you can see the fear in his eyes as those memories are haunting him. Barry Jenkins uses close-ups and tight shots to maximize the effectiveness of storytelling.

Jf Beale Street Can Talk is a film where the parts did not make a great whole. There are powerful moments to like that are scattered throughout the film. However, as a whole the movie felt uneven. Barry Jenkins uses close-ups and tight shots, but they do not always pay off, and when they don’t it brings down the film. The veterans actors in the film brought their A-game and gave the movie some interesting personality worth seeing. Regina King, Stephan James, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Colman Domingo and Emily Rios all deserve recognition for what they brought to this film. If you saw Moonlight and enjoyed it then I would recommend checking this one out, for me, If Beale Street Could Talk was more enjoyable of the two. It’s a different spin on romance where the couple breaks up because of reasons out of their control, which is refreshing. James Baldwin’s novel was written over four decades ago, and its themes still relate today. If this was playing at a theater near you, then give it a viewing, my biggest issue is that the film didn’t finish as strong as it started. Some moments of the movie felt like a brisk jog down Beale Street, yet other moments felt like a slow walk instead of one smooth constant power walk.

Fin.

RATING

[Fresh Horchata]

[Fuego]

[Bueno]

[a si a si]

[Basura]

[All Mames Wey]

If Beale Street Could Talk was released in theaters on December 14, 2018.

 

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